Review: Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra

Tallahassee Democrat, October 25, 2004:

Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra Music Director David Hoose announced earlier in the week that he would not return to the Orchestra after the 2004-2005 season. That season began Saturday evening at Florida State University’s Ruby Diamond Auditorium with a program of music by Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Rachmaninov.

The program, and the audience’s reaction to it, highlighted the growth of the TSO during Mr. Hoose’s directorship in addition to showing the limitations of a part-time ensemble.

Shostakovich’s First Symphony (1926) is a brash and assured debut. It has all of the earmarks of the composer’s mature style—sardonic wit, melodic ingenuity, rhythmic vitality, and colorful orchestration. The Orchestra responded to Mr. Hoose’s crisp tempos and gestures to give a taut, exciting performance of this early modern masterpiece.

The Orchestra displayed solid ensemble work throughout the Symphony, which is awash in the discontinuity that is a hallmark of Modernist art and thought. Soloists (there are too many solos in the Symphony to name all the players) handled their melodic twists and turns with panache, and the Orchestra boldly attacked Shostakovich’s dissonant harmonies, which is key to making them work for the audience.

The audience responded with a sustained and enthusiastic ovation, which indicates how far Mr. Hoose and the Orchestra have come in their programming, which is adventurous for a community-based orchestra in a city the size of Tallahassee. One selling point the TSO’s search committee will have is an audience open to unusual repertoire, in addition to the players capable of delivering fine performances of that repertoire.

Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances marks the end of the composer’s career, and in some ways, of the Romanticism he championed and even, for many, embodied. It is a colorful and expressive work, full of memorable melodies and orchestral color. Saturday night’s performance was fiery and solid. Once again the numerous soloists gave telling accounts of their parts, with principal cellist Kim Jones a standout among standouts.

Mark Rohr’s program note made much of the idea that Rachmaninov eschewed Modernism even as late as 1940, the year of the Dances. While it is true that the composer never wrote music that was anything other than unambiguously tonal, he did make use of the same kinds of discontinuities heard to such good effect in the Shostakovich. This piece was full of sudden textural changes and melodic surprises, so while it was not avant-garde, it certainly was Modern in some respects, and Mr. Hoose’s reading emphasized some of that aspect of the score.

The performance was not quite fully realized—I had the feeling throughout that, with one more rehearsal, the Orchestra could really have let go and pulled out all the stops. The Rachmaninov is a greater technical challenge for an orchestra than is the Shostakovich, and this lack of rehearsal time is a serious and inevitable limit on the artistic growth of an orchestra like the Tallahassee Symphony. This was a fine concert, but the Orchestra is capable of even more.

This concert, then, placed the potential and challenge of the TSO in relief, and it will be fascinating to watch the search for the musician who will take on the task of leading the Orchestra into the future.

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