Orchestra season features exotic kickoff

Having already opened its 2009-2010 concert season with the brilliant pianist Ceclie Licad in solo recital, the Tupelo Symphony Orchestra played its own grand inaugural Saturday night at the Link Centre. And what a kickoff it was!
Directed by TSO music director Steven Byess, the first half was devoted to musical exoticism by two masters of the genre.
In the spirit of an Oriental fairy tale, the Russian composer Mikhail Glinka got things going with his wonderfully adventurous and jaunty Overture to the opera “Russlan and Ludmilla.”
In the same atmosphere of Eastern exoticism, the seven movements of Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s Suite from “Aladdin” evoked a marvelous world of flying carpets and lumbering elephant processions.
After intermission came the evening’s crowning glory – Tchaikovsky’s mega-grand Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor.
Since its world premiere in 1875, the B-flat minor has always measured a gold-standard of pianistic ability. To make soaring, glorious music from its fiendishly difficult passages – while precisely negotiating the orchestra’s glittering but treacherous ocean of surrounding sound – is a rare achievement indeed.
Yakov Kasman, the evening’s piano soloist, navigated these potentially frightful difficulties with all the ease and style of a true virtuoso. Born near Moscow, educated at Russia’s famous Moscow Conservatory, Kasman made his American debut as 1997 Silver Medallist in the Tenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
In collaboration with Steven Byess and the Tupelo Symphony, his rendition of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece was nothing short of extraordinary.
Anyone who listens carefully to live ensembles knows there are a few magic occasions when written scores are transcended; when soloist, conductor, and orchestra track each other so closely, in such spirited give and take, that the music itself sparkles as though freshly composed.
This was the spirit that descended on the Link Centre Saturday night. During the space of half an hour, as the three movements of Peter Illich Tchaikovsky’s music glittered and shimmered like exotic fireworks, the interaction between Kasmen, Byess, and the orchestra was fascinating to watch.
Like a tightly coiled spring, he would momentarily hunch over the keyboard, while at other times he looked expansively toward the musicians playing around him.
Conscious that they had experienced something truly extraordinary, the audience sprang to their feet as the last thrilling notes died away, recalling Byess and Kasmen four times to take their bows with the orchestra.
What a way to open a grand new season!

For more information about the TSO’s 2009-2010 season,
visit tupelosymphony.com or call the Symphony office at (662) 842-8433.

Robert Bruce Smith