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The Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra held its final concert of the season in its new home, the Blue Ridge Conference Hall on the Flat Rock campus of Blue Ridge Community College. After years of suffering with the acoustic deficiencies of Hendersonville High School’s auditorium and First Baptist Church’s sanctuary, the new space is a welcome improvement. Improved stage acoustics allow the musicians to create a tighter ensemble. The hall acoustics are very good considering that this is a multipurpose space. The hall is live, but the decay characteristics are good. The orchestra sounds better if you sit at least six rows back, but there are no quirky problems.
The new space is not perfect as an orchestra hall. The flat floor leads to poor sight lines. Folding chairs are always a compromise. There are no risers, at least not yet. The house lights were left up over the front half of the audience, which disconcerted some patrons. There is too much air conditioning noise. But it is a great improvement over the past.
Music Director Thomas Joiner expanded the program with two short pieces that showcased the hall’s acoustic quality. Jan Sibelius’ "Andante Festivo" allowed the strings to be highlighted. Aaron Copland’s "Hoedown" from Rodeo demonstrated the sonic quality of works with loud brass passages and dominant percussion parts.
Georges Bizet’s L’Arlésienne Suite No. 2 is a four-movement compilation of incidental music originally composed for the theater. During the Pastorale movement, the liveness of the hall seemed to cause some balance problems. The piccolo penetrated. The brass bristled. The wind players could have reduced their effort to good effect.
This concert marked the debut with the orchestra of Luke Blackburn, this year’s Young Artist Competition winner, who showed great musicianship in his sensitive rendering of the Andante movement of Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto in Bb, K. 191. A low wind instrument player was a pleasant change from the more-frequent violin and piano concerto performers who dominate youth competitions.
Following intermission, seventeen selected members of the Hendersonville Symphony Youth Orchestra joined the professionals for the annual “side-by-side” appearance at which the teenagers play along with the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra. Two works were scheduled for this outing.
The first was Bedřich Smetana’s "The Moldau." At one point near the end, I realized with a start that I was hearing the sound of a cymbal clash decaying properly, another tribute to the acoustics of the hall. Six of the eight woodwind parts were doubled, performed by both a professional and a student from the HSYO playing in unison. This doubling sometimes led to a blurring. Perhaps the sound of the woodwind choir would have been cleaner if the responsibility had been divided, assigning some passages to be played by the students and others by the professionals.
In recognition of the impending Memorial Day, veterans in the audience had been recognized and enthusiastically applauded. In that spirit, the final programmed number was The American Frontier, a medley by noted Boston Pops arranger Calvin Custer. The four songs included “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” “Chester,” “Shenandoah” and concluded with “America the Beautiful.”
As an encore, the HSO repeated the Copland "Hoedown," this time with the help of its youthful augmentation. These young people are good.
A fuller report on the new performance space can be found in an Arts Spectrum column that will appear this week at http://www.ArtsSpectrum.blogspot.com.