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Jack Zaleski, Published September 28 2013

Review: Local artists highlight of Fargo-Moorhead Symphony opener

The playbill for Saturday night’s first-of-the-season Masterworks Concert Series by the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony covered a musical landscape that stretched from the early years of the 20th century to the early years of the 21st. Along the way, the receptive crowd in the Festival Concert Hall on the campus of North Dakota State University was treated to a marvelous performance by a young violinist and a reflective overture inspired by the Red River.

Overall, the concert was a triumph for new music director Christopher Zimmerman. The orchestra played with verve and enthusiasm, suggesting the maestro is off to a very good start. If a practiced ear detected a minor flutter or two, chalk it up to opening night jitters, not to the tested talent of the director and his charges.

The evening opened with the rollicking violence and sonorous tones of Benjamin Britten’s “Symphonia da Requiem.” The closing work was the familiar and larger-than-life “Symphony No. 2” by Jean Sibelius.

But it was performances by two of the symphony’s own in the middle of the concert that captivated an appreciative audience.

Brilliant young violinist Morganne McIntyre was positively startling in her virtuosity as soloist for Ralph Vaughn Williams’ “The Lark Ascending.” The poised 17-year-old coaxed beauty from her instrument that indeed sang out like a lark. Displaying seriousness and maturity beyond her years, McIntyre brought magic to the accessible and lyrical piece, complemented by a responsive and nuanced orchestra. And as if recognizing a career in the making, the audience sprang to spontaneous standing ovation as the last notes faded.

Taking the Red River as his theme, the symphony’s principal bassoonist, Russell Peterson, participated in the inaugural performance of his “Red River Overture: from the Thames to the Red.” Written for Zimmerman, the short piece is a wonderfully reflective musical study of the Red. Peterson’s score captures the mood, not only of the fickle river but also of the people who live with it. Zimmerman’s direction captured that spirit in the composer’s notes. Regarding Britten’s difficult Synfonia, the symphony rose to the challenge. There can be no fudging with the precision and timing the piece requires. A well-prepared symphony executed nicely.

Director and musicians embraced the famous “three notes” of the Sibelius symphony, carrying the theme through the movements with full and rich sound the composer himself would have applauded. The majesty and required intensity of the work reached full resonance in the sweeping themes and elegant melodies of the final movements.

Opening night was a success. Cleary the Symphony continues a commitment to excellence that became foundational during the tenure of music director Joel Revzen, was enhanced during the Bernie Rubenstein years, and looks to be in very good hands as Christopher Zimmerman begins his service here.

Readers can reach Forum Opinion Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521