Sunday, October 11, 2015

Happy Anniversary!

Ehnes Floors at MBT

By Lily Olason

Today’s gig joins the pantheon of stunners at the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra. Celebrating the 40th birthday of the organization (brainchild of beloved Whatcom County musician, Claire Vg Thomas), the show featured three iconic pieces, a fantastic collection of musicians, and one inexplicably gifted soloist.

After an official proclamation by music lover and County Executive Jack Louws, deeming October 11- 17 Whatcom Symphony Orchestra Week, the afternoon kicked off with Overture to Candide. Jewel of Leonard Bernstein’s 1956 operetta, Candide was an apt choice to reintroduce the WSO: it was replete with symmetry. Cutting brass (see especially: trombones) answered subtle strings, thunderous percussion balanced oscillating winds. Its repetitive theme was well captured and the orchestra delivered it, as expected, beautifully. 

After a brief but always-informative chat with Maestro Yaniv Attar, all nail biting ceased as headliner James Ehnes took the stage. Attar introduced him as one of the "finest violinists today," and by the end of the first note, I don't think there was a soul in the audience that didn't embrace that sentiment wholeheartedly. Tackling Beethoven's Concerto in D major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 61 with impossible ease, Ehnes delivered a performance unforgettable. Unless you count some microscopic piece of dust on the tuning peg or a fly somewhere in the building, the performance was utterly, gorgeously flawless. Mr. Ehnes' bio notes that he "performs on the 1715 'Carsick' Stradivarius" which is perhaps the most exquisite sounding instrument I've ever heard. It took Ehnes' direction masterfully and kicked the audio setting of the room from "Ultimate" to "Unfeasible;" every stroke of the bow sprinkled some kind of sugar sweetness in the air, and the orchestra reciprocated fantastically. The highest notes were the most round, the most whole and full and robust; rapid arpeggios were laser cut, smooth like glass and ceaselessly accurate. It was hypnotic. Further than this, I lack vocabulary. But trust me when I say it was magnificent.

Predictably, a torrential round of applause and standing ovation ensued. Returning, Ehnes treated us to a rich and speedy final movement of Bach's Sonata in G Minor. "Jaw-dropping" is an appropriate descriptor.

After Ehnes said goodbye, the orchestra returned post-intermission to interpret one of the most iconic pieces of music in the Western repertoire. And they did so outstandingly, faithfully well. Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor, op. 67 was both distinct and consistently well performed, the conclusion as colorful as the ever-recognizable first movement. The vibrancy and energy of the performance, and of entire ensemble was palpable, and the decision to commit to this piece so wholeheartedly admirable. If Candide set a fantastic precedent for this show, so did Beethoven's Fifth for this season. 

We can't wait to see what the WSO does next.

The Orchestra's next show is November 22, featuring clarinet-viola duo Moran Katz and Dimitri Murrath. For more information or to buy tickets online, visit the WSO's website.

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