Orchestra adorns elegant new venue with excellent performance

One day after the city of Sochi, Russia, showed itself off to the world in its opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics, the Rochester Symphony Orchestra & Chorale presented "Cityscapes," a program of compositions inspired by the cities that were important in the lives of their composers.

The concert was RSOC's inaugural performance in the Remick Family Fine Arts Building at Lourdes High School. Student artwork on the "Cityscapes" theme greeted visitors to the hall. The hall has a generous stage for the orchestra and is warm and inviting. Graced with gorgeous stained glass windows, its acoustics are excellent. I would personally like to see the orchestra perform in this casually elegant space for years to come.

The acoustics allow the audience to hear and feel the orchestra's highest, lowest, loudest and softest points. The orchestral color of Respighi's dense and difficult "Pines of Rome" sparkled. The bass, cello and viola "lullaby" of Aaron Copland's "Quiet City" reverberated. The trumpets were clear and alive. These are the qualities that keep audiences wanting more.

The orchestra seems to excel at works of the Classical era. Its performance of the "Prague Symphony" was no exception. Strings and woodwinds were clear and precise. The knife-like slashing between cellos and violins in the Presto was crisp and expressive. The work was polished and well-articulated, the first violins sometimes sounding like one player alone.

The American works — Samuel Barber's "Knoxville Summer of 1915," Leonard Bernstein's Three Dance Episodes from "On the Town" and Copland's "Quiet City" — allowed listeners to take in the "American sound" as it developed in the mid-20th century.


Based on an elegiac prose poem by James Agee, "Knoxville's" muted instruments conjured up the mists of nostalgia. While soprano Elizabeth Hillebrand's diction and vocal expression were excellent, it was her buttery high notes that were most delicious.

The excerpts from "On the Town" allowed brass players, whom I have often criticized, to shine with metallic, jazzy rhythms that brought down the house at the end. This was the entire orchestra's best-performed work of the evening.

"Pines of Rome" was ambitious and admirably played. Sometimes sounding a bit rough, at other times the complex orchestral machine ran smoothly and was impressive. The evening concert might have taken one away from the dazzle of Olympic events, but it did not disappoint.

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