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Thunderous applause welcomed conductor Daniel Meyer to the stage of Asheville Symphony Orchestra’s sold out performance on Saturday, January 17. Excited audience members of Thomas Wolfe Auditorium’s large concert hall silenced immediately upon hearing the opening tuning pitch from the orchestra.
The evening opened with Giuseppe Verdi’s Overture to “I vespri siciliani.” The piece began with shorter, hushed stringed phrases as an energetic Daniel Meyer intimately cued the entrances of each part of the orchestra. The ensemble seamlessly launched into louder, full and lively sections under Meyer’s quick and sharp direction. Each part seemed to shine without overshadowing any portion of the ensemble, a trait indicative of a well-crafted and professional performance. Suddenly, however, the piece transitioned into questionable unison sections where intonation suffered. Despite a moment of frailty, gorgeous and rhythmically complex phrases quickly redeemed the ensemble, enveloping the audience in a swell of sincere sound. The piece featured sweetly soothing melodies juxtaposed against a thunder of instrumentation. A vivacious and impressive opener, the piece carried on with sensuous precision. Overwhelmed by the grandeur and brilliant execution of this opening piece, I found myself teary-eyed and speechless.
Moments later, violinist Kyung Ah Oh glided to her place on the stage in a flutter of teal and glitter for the second piece, a performance of Jean Sibelius’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D minor, op. 47. The orchestra cradled her in a cloud of gorgeous harmonies and luscious chords, the soft bowing and low hums of the instruments creating the perfect layer to feature the soloist. Kyung’s swift arpeggios and perfectly precise scalar runs shone through, wowing awe-struck audience members. These mechanically taxing phrases were apparently no challenge for this brilliant violinist. Poised Kyung awaited Daniel Meyer’s instruction, allowing each phrase to begin with his direction. Eyes closed, Kyung breathed into each phrase, violin and performer functioning as one. Audience members gushed over Kyung’s water-like, smooth and deliciously crafted phrases at the end of the first movement as audible sighs of appreciation resounded throughout the hall.
The second movement of Sibelius’ concerto featured longer and deeper musical ideas, accenting Kyung’s rich, dark lower range and her strong, secure bowing. Suddenly, I realized that Kyung Ah Oh did not have music in front of her. All of these seemingly random pitches and flashy phrases were completely ingrained in her mind. To be so well-acquainted with a piece of this complexity just baffled me. Quickly, however, my mind returned to the music where I once again lost myself in a sea of sweet melody.
The last movement returned to the wildly exciting, faster patterns echoing that of the opening movement. Kyung swayed into long bowed phrases, back arching with fluidity in a ballerina-like fashion. Gazes fixed to Meyer and Kyung, the ensemble never failed to meet the soloist with their respective complimentary notes. Daniel Meyer’s jovial and energized gestures guided the orchestra through the entirety of the piece, even as Kyung released her final note. Met with a standing ovation, a humble Kyung gracefully bowed, shook the hand of her conductor, and exited the stage with elegance.
The final piece of the performance was met with much anticipation: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, op.67. I found myself giggling during the ominous and all-too-familiar opening four notes: (“ba ba ba bummm, ba ba ba bummm.”) Smiles spread across my row as they, too, rejoiced for having heard such a famous piece played in person. The orchestra executed entrances and exits with upmost precision and intensity. No one would dare risk being late or early on a phrase. During the second movement, I was able to notice more about the ensemble as a whole; each section of the same instrument portrayed musicians of varying styles and performance methodology, all working together to deliver an incredible performance. I began thinking of all the sums on that stage: the number of hours in practice rooms to arrive at this performance tonight; the years of music studied; number of pieces learned, etc., I was surely in the presence of greatness.
Valiant and noble melodies rang throughout the fourth and final movement. The string sections’ bows synchronized to a tee, growing in intensity and fervor. Neither Meyer nor the orchestra seemed to lack energy the entire evening, even at the end of such an intense night of music. Audience members were on the edges of their seats until the final proud resounding chord and drum roll. The crowd jumped up immediately, once more exuding pleased and excited applause — another standing ovation.
I remain awe-struck and overjoyed at having heard such an incredible performance, even a day later. Asheville Symphony Orchestra provides a powerful and moving experience for all — I cannot wait to hear them again.