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John Lamb, Published January 11 2014

Review: Symphony salutes American composers

If you go

What: Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra’s Masterworks concert “American Genius”

When: 2 p.m. today

Where: Festival Concert Hall, Reineke Fine Arts Center, NDSU

Info: Tickets range from $15 to $35

FARGO – There were no high-flying acts, no crowd sing-alongs, not even a wardrobe change Saturday night at North Dakota State University’s Festival Concert Hall. Yet, without a single sexy back-up dancer, The Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra put on as energetic and entertaining show as Pink was doing at the Fargodome.

What the FMSO lacked in dazzling stage production, it more than made up for in sheer musicality. Still, there was some spectacle as patrons watched the group swell to 86 performers, packed onto the stage. And the projection of stars in blue and red lights on the ceiling was a nice bit of theatrics for a show that celebrated American composers.

Like Independence Day itself, the show, the concert earned its share of “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd. The night opened with Leonard Bernstein’s giddy, “Overture to Candide,” short, frantic and silly enough to elicit laughs from when it ended.

John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances: Foxtrot for Orchestra” kept the tempo chugging along. The piece, from his 1987 opera, “Nixon in China,” is packed with so many angular rhythms and counterpoints, it’s as much of a thrill to watch as it is to hear. The symphony gets a workout, particularly the percussionists, who, with the piano, end the piece simulating the sound of a scratching vinyl record.

After that, Aaron Copland’s “Four Dances” from “Rodeo,” was a fitting finale for the first half, culminating in the identifiable “Hoe-Down,” or as many know it, “That song from the ‘Beef, it’s what’s for dinner’ commercial.”

After a glimpse of new composer Jonathan Leshnoff through his aptly titled “Starburst,” conductor Christopher Zimmerman returned to Bernstein and his work from “On the Waterfront.” It opens with a mournful solo French horn theme that echoes throughout the orchestra until it is lost in the musical bustle of industry. Bernstein paints a complex, yet evocative picture that rolls between tenderness and violence before the two themes beautifully crash together for a gripping closure.

I’m sure Pink put on a fun show, but it was the Symphony that musically lit things up Saturday night.

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