Now in its 61st season, Galesburg’s own Knox-Galesburg Symphony put on a stellar performance that received a standing ovation on Saturday at the Orpheum Theatre.
The night’s program was built around its biggest and most advanced pieces, Beethoven’s “Emperor Concerto” and Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloe.” Other works included “Largo for Strings” by Israeli composer Boaz Avni and “American Hymn for Orchestra” by Nancy Bloomer Deussen.
The night opened with Deussen’s piece, a lovely folk ballad with a quintessentially Americana spirit that conductor and Professor of Music Bruce Polay described as sounding like “a band piece for orchestra.”
Despite some tuning issues in the strings, the piece was a favorite of sophomore Joshua Calef.
“The intonation was weird sometimes, but I really liked [it],” he said.
Following Duessen’s piece was Beethoven’s concerto, specifically chosen by guest pianist Roberta Rust. Exhibiting near flawless technique and an unmatched intensity, Rust more than did justice to Beethoven’s masterpiece. The work demands incredible endurance on the part of both the pianist and the orchestra, with three movements and a run time of nearly 40 minutes. Perhaps because of this, occasionally the orchestra could not keep up with Rust’s bravura, as cues were missed and some entrances sloppy.
However, all the kinks in the orchestra seemed to work out for Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloe,” a piece that Polay describes as “so beautiful it’s beyond words.” While Rust’s appearance was a spectacle to be sure, the Ravel piece was by far the most electrifying performance of the night. Adding a particularly dramatic effect was the Galesburg Community Chorus, directed by Professor of Music at Monmouth College Tim Pahel, who joined the KGS for the piece.
Most impressive were the performances by the woodwinds, who played increasingly throughout. Their lines remained flawlessly in tune even when the ranges of each instrument were pushed to their limits.
Pahel remarked on the raw energy of the piece and the difficulty of the choral parts generally.
“The harmonies are quite chromatic … it was a shock [for the choir] to hear it with the orchestra for the first time,” Pahel said.
Senior Allison Gaines, who plays cello for the KGS, said the piece is “unlike anything I’ve ever heard before.
“It’s a challenging and ambitious work for the symphony to pull off, but I’m glad I’ve been exposed to it,” she said