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John Lamb, Published April 22 2012

Review: F-M Symphony conductor bids adieu with joyful performance

FARGO – The Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra audience loves retiring Musical Director Bernard Rubenstein so much so that they didn’t wait for a single note to give him a standing ovation Sunday afternoon.

The Festival Hall concert was the last time the conductor led the group he oversaw for nine years, and the appreciation flowed from the stage to the crowd and back repeatedly. All told, Bernie – as fans and friends call him – received three standing ovations: one as he first took the stage, one after the first number and finally after the last number, during which he was called back to applause at least four times.

Bernie may have been the object of admiration, but the star of the show was pianist Jay Hershberger, who soloed wonderfully on Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy, Opus 80.”

The Concordia College professor played exquisitely, moving deftly from the dark, minor chords that ring ominously in the beginning to high trilling to the first hint of the theme that would later become “Ode to Joy” in Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony.”

Backed by singers Virginia Sublett, Lucy Thrasher, Linda Boyd Coates, David Hamilton, Peter Halverson and Robert Jones, as well as the North Dakota State University Concert Choir, the Minnesota State University Concert Choir and the Fargo-Moorhead Chamber Chorale, the piece was truly a joy. Even musicians and singers couldn’t hold back smiles during the performance.

After an intermission, the musicians returned – minus the singers – for Gustav Mahler’s “Symphony No. 1: Titan.” Rubenstein had said the choice was fitting as his farewell, since the composer wrote a musical goodbye in the score.

It was also fitting because it showed what the symphony could do. The piece ranges from a dark bass theme opening the third movement to closing on a rolling, triumphant wave.

After the concert, trombonist Ed Huttlin said in a presentation that Bernie challenged the musicians and the community.

Musicians were moved as they said goodbye to their maestro, but Bernie maintained his typical smile as he wished them well.

“I think I’m cried out now, so I can just enjoy the celebration,” he said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533