Ravishing Ravel wraps Tupelo's symphony season

A gentle rain which fell on Tupelo Saturday night only added to the atmospherics of the Tupelo Symphony Orchestra’s 2008-2009 farewell performance at the Link Centre. Conducted by TSO music director Steven Byess and featuring the exciting Israeli pianist Yaron Kohlberg, it was an evening characterized by breathtaking energy and fine music making.
First off was Joseph Schwantner’s contemporary tone poem, “Chasing Light…”. Commissioned by a consortium of American orchestras and the Ford Foundation, Schwantner’s delicate orchestrations beautifully evoked the magical atmosphere of sunrise in a rural New Hampshire forest.
French composer Maurice Ravel’s two piano concertos formed the heart of Saturday’s program. A confirmed bachelor, Ravel’s own writings imply he regarded music itself as his “wife” – and he wasn’t kidding. Music was everything to Ravel; his greatest joy was to meticulously marshal its rhythms, notes, and instrumental colors into something fresh, flowing, and wonderful.
This was definitely the case with his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in G Major. Written between 1929 and 1931, few works of music are more enjoyable when performed with the requisite keyboard dexterity plus inspired musical imagination. Twenty-five year old pianist Yaron Kohlberg embodied these virtues with plenty to spare.
Like a finely honed racehorse brimming with purposeful excitement, he bounded from the wings and seated himself before the TSO’s splendid new Steinway, ready for action. What followed was a taut, dazzling execution of Ravel’s classically elegant masterpiece.
After intermission, Kohlberg and Byess rejoined the TSO players to perform Ravel’s even more amazing Concerto in D Major for the Left Hand. Commissioned by Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein (who lost his right arm while a prisoner of the Russians during World War One), the D Major’s mood is romantic, lyrical – and phenomenally demanding for any pianist brave enough to attempt it.
Again Kohlberg, along with Byess, and the TSO, contrived to infuse Ravel’s ravishing music with the kind of poetry and energy it so richly deserves.
To end each season, Byess likes to go out with a bang, and certainly Saturday’s last selection – Jacques Offenbach’s Overture to the operetta “Orpheus in the Underworld” – amply met his requirement. Its grand finale, the famous “Can Can,” provided an uproariously festive way to wrap up another successful symphonic season here in Northeast Mississippi.

Robert Bruce Smith/Special to the Daily Journal

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