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Gonzaga orchestra, guest cellist deliver

FRIDAY, MAY 4, 2012

For the music lover, Spokane holds few pleasures as great or as dependable as the concerts of the Gonzaga Symphony Orchestra under its conductor, Kevin Hekmatpanah.

The reasons are simple: The orchestra is made up of a blend of gifted students and committed older members of the community, some of them former and current professionals. The result is music-making of unflagging energy and enthusiasm. Unaffected by budgetary considerations, the orchestra is of considerable size, which makes Hekmatpanah capable of delivering massive sonority when he wants to, which he did often on Monday night.

The conductor is a performing musician of wide experience who employs a boundless passion for music and impeccable training to do what Fred Astaire claimed as his only goal: “… to leave ’em in the aisles, begging for more.”

Hekmatpanah can also draw on a worldwide network of professional performers of the highest rank, who are willing to travel great distances to perform with his orchestra.

 All of these gifts were on display Monday evening at the concert of the Gonzaga Symphony at the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox. The program consisted of three blue-ribbon crowd-pleasers and one work by Victor Herbert that was widely acclaimed in the first decades of the 20th century, but whose star has been eclipsed by the greater work it inspired.

 The Herbert work is his Cello Concerto No. 2 in E minor Op. 30. That’s right, a classical concerto by the composer of “Naughty Marietta,” and “Babes in Toyland.” Herbert was a virtuoso cellist with strong classical training. Unfortunately for the future royalties of his estate, Herbert befriended a colleague at the National Conservatory of Music, named Antonin Dvorak, who was so taken with the cello concerto that he resolved to write one of his own. Dvorak’s concerto is now acknowledged as the greatest ever composed for the cello, perhaps for any stringed instrument, and has pushed Herbert’s admirable effort into the shadows, from which it richly deserves to emerge.

 The soloist was the brilliant and charismatic Israeli cellist Amit Peled. Apparently, someone neglected to tell Peled that the Herbert concerto is a second-rate work, because he played it with the mastery and communicative power commonly lavished on a masterpiece; and it emerged as precisely that. Before the concert, Peled said he believes the second movement, in particular, is among the finest things in the cello repertoire, and that the whole piece contains every element a lover of the instrument could ask for. His performance left one with no reason to quibble with that assessment.

 During Peled’s encore, the hypnotic “Latvian Song” of Joachim Stutschewsky, the audience hung on every note, and welcomed the disappearance into silence of the final phrase with a gasp.

 “The Light Cavalry” overture of Franz von Suppe, the “Rienzi” overture of Richard Wagner, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Marche Slav” all benefited from the rich sound of the orchestra … 10 cellos! These Romantic works were written for only one purpose: to excite the strongest possible emotions in the audience through rousing melodies, infectious rhythms and brilliant orchestral effects. Mission accomplished.

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