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For years we've been reading wonderful things about the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra, which lists over 90 musicians on its published roster. Based on what we heard at the opening concert of its 44th season, presented before a near-capacity audience in the concert hall of Blue Ridge Community College, everything said about it seems to be true. The orchestra has stable membership, stable leadership, stable management and strong community support. It is actively engaged in educational pursuits and outreach. All this would be remarkable under any circumstances but that there are other orchestras within easy reach makes the achievements of the HSO all the more remarkable.
The program was a salute to the great Viennese concerts known throughout the world that are given annually on New Year's Day. On this occasion, the new year is of course the new season, and that extends beyond the orchestra to the schools, the resumption of our Western mountains' most lovely time of the year, and so much more (perhaps including the start of the federal fiscal year at the end of the month…). "A Blue Danube Evening" was a gala in many respects, with music handsomely delivered plus dancers, enough floral arrangements to outfit most of the community's churches, Sacher torte slices for sale in the lobby (to benefit the several HS youth orchestras), suitable projections on the walls to the side of the platform, and a savvy, seasoned narrator to tie it all together. Festive it was. No kidding.
The dancers – Nancy Hayes and Robert Wootton and Ted and Kimberly Ross – added color and elegant movement and used all the aisles but would have been better served and savored if they had been able to use the lip of the stage. (Pre-concert dance lessons were an added touch but despite encouragements none of the "students" displayed new skills at the concert.)
Narrator Ron Whittemore provided occasionally silly but invariable relevant commentary, sometimes abetted by the conductor. Maestro Thomas W. Joiner, based at Furman, is in his 18th season in Hendersonville, where, we were told by patrons and musicians, too, his programming and leadership are highly valued.
It didn't take long to figure out why he is so enthusiastically appreciated.
The program included many of the usual suspects for this sort of thing – music by members of the Strauss family, of course, and by Hellmesberger (the "Danse diabolique," which served as a rousing opener), Nicolai (whose Merry Wives of Windsor Overture was among the evening's high points, in terms of beauty of execution), Suppé (whose Light Cavalry Overture opened part two), and Kreisler, for two of whose musical bon-bons the conductor took up his violin for solos played in the manner of JSII himself, accompanied by a chamber orchestra. The rest of the evening was all Strauss, encompassing some of the very best works, beloved of all fans of this genre – "Tales from the Vienna Woods," the "Tritsch-Tratsch" Polka, "Voices of Spring*," the "Donner und Blitz" Polka, an excerpt from Die Fledermaus, and the "Blue Danube" Waltz, all by JSII, and all capped by his father's "Radetsky" March. What's not to like?
At the outset, in the Hellmesberger, the brasses seemed a bit unruly, perhaps a result of misjudging the effect of the relatively low cloud over the relatively shallow platform; during the rest of the evening, balance, blend, attacks, releases, phrasing, and overall ensemble were all uniformly excellent. Joiner has a fine sense of how these things are meant to go; the two podium quirks seemed to be the pacings of the two polkas schnell (quick polkas), the first of which was probably quick enough for the dancers (and which was speeded up when they finished their contributions), but neither of which was as brisk as one usually hears them. But beauties abounded, in expressive playing and depth of radiant sound one might never have anticipated but for all those earlier reports of the HSO's excellence. It was, in sum, a splendid and generous evening, highly enjoyable, that the audience heard attentively and rewarded enthusiastically. Things are definitely off to a good start in this part of the State of the Arts.
The HSO's next concert will be presented on October 10. For details, see our calendar.
*A medical emergency, discreetly handled, occurred during this waltz. We hope the patron enjoys a complete recovery.
Note: Readers who have not seen the genuine article from Vienna may enjoy this complete concert from 1992, conducted by the great Carlos Kleiber.