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Carrie Snyder, Published September 29 2012

F-M Symphony season debut homecoming, exploration

FARGO – It was both a homecoming and an exploration for George Hanson on Saturday when he served as the guest conductor of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra’s season debut concert.

Hanson, who grew up in Moorhead and now heads the Tucson (Ariz.) Symphony Orchestra, directed a program that took listeners on a journey of Russian classical music that showcased the orchestra’s depth and range.

He opened with “Dance of the Tumblers” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, a piece he likened to a musical appetizer, with a quick pace and uplifting spirit that set a light tone that would turn darker with the two compositions that followed, both in minor keys.

The three works traced a lineage of Russian composers, and delighted the audience, which showed its appreciation with two enthusiastic standing ovations.

Rimsky-Korsakov had taught Tchaikovsky, whose Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor was the second piece of the evening, featuring a virtuoso performance by Benjamin Moser, a German pianist.

In turn, Tchaikovsky had taught a mentor of Dmitri Shostakovich, whose Symphony No. 5 in D Minor concluded the program.

The Tchaikovsky piano concerto anchored the concert. The piece is familiar to classical audiences – it’s one of the world’s most performed piano concertos, and technically challenging.

Moser, who won the Sander Buchman First Prize of the 2007 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, demonstrated an impressive dynamic range as his hands moved dexterously over the keyboard.

His performance exhibited both musical artistry and physical intensity and brought the audience to its feet when he and the orchestra brought it to a rousing finish.

Brought back for an encore, he played a prelude by Claude Debussy, “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair,” another lighter piece that nicely contrasted the Tchaikovsy and Shostakovitch compositions.

The piece by Shostakovich, composed during the Stalinist era, was written during a time when many artists “disappeared” and the composer was given a second chance to redeem himself.

Redemption came – the piece was written for musical audience, not party apparatchiks. But the second movement included a sly, unflattering portrait of Stalin, who thought plodding passages depicting Soviet oppression gave a musical nod to stoic workers.

There was nothing stoic about the symphony’s season debut – the start of its 82nd year – and the first of five guest conductors auditioning to be the next musical director.

“It was a great start to an audition season,” said George Wai, who has been a regular attendee of Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra concerts for 40 years.

“When you go to a concert, you want to be entertained and you want to learn something,” Wai said. “I think both of those goals were achieved.”

Hanson and the orchestra play a second concert this evening at the Festival Concert Hall at North Dakota State University, part of the Sanford Health Masterworks Concert Series.

“We have four more candidates and I encourage the public to come and listen to all of them,” said Wai, who is serving on the selection committee.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

If you go

What: Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra Concert

When: 2 p.m. today

Where: Festival Concert Hall, North Dakota State University

Info: Tickets $15-$35 at www.fmsymphony.org or at the door