by Steven Keely
The Boise Philharmonic’s season opener, held at Boise State’s Morrison Center Sept. 29, featured internationally acclaimed violinist Rachel Barton Pine as the guest artist, performing Jean Sibelius’ “Concerto in D minor for Violin and Orchestra."
The audience was treated to an introduction by Tony Boatman, the Philharmonic’s now interim executive director, and the former director from 2000 through 2010. He charmed the audience with warm, self-effacing humor, while recognizing several sponsorships.
Following Boatman, the Philharmonic’s dynamic Music Director Robert Franz flew out to introduce the music program. Franz, the evening’s conductor, mounted the podium, raised his baton and inspired some patriotic fervor. The roused, upstanding audience gave full voice to a robust orchestral “Star Spangled Banner,” concluding with extended applause, shouts and whistles. This was an unexpected concert hall experience and it would not have been out of place for an American flag to unfurl from above the orchestra, while musical fireworks exploded around us.
The music program began with “Pacific 231,” a seven-minute orchestral warm-up piece by Arthur Honegger. As promised, this locomotive piece achieved its increasing momentum, while continuously and relentlessly working a musically slowing beat. As an opening number, it couldn’t have been better chosen, and the orchestra performed it well.
Next, the stage was adjusted for violinist Rachel Barton Pine. She spoke to the audience about expectations: Sibelius struggled for years with this utterly beautiful violin concerto. Earlier in the evening, Franz had said the composition fairly "dances right off the page," and through this soundscape of violin and orchestra, creates an on-again, off-again harmonious mood. This sentiment was echoed by Pine, as she completed her introduction.
In violin playing, it’s the bow that makes the music. For all the finger dexterity, perfect intonation and quality of the violin box itself, nothing determines the music more than the bow. If there is one single mark about Pine, it is that “she has bow.”
Pine later said, other than family, “my first passion, by far, is performing concerts. Nothing else comes close.”
And everyone in the audience could feel that passion.
In the evening’s introduction, Franz spoke of Johannes Brahms’ 19-year struggle with “Symphony No. 1 in C Minor,” the performance’s closing piece. And no wonder: Brahms’ composition, typical of Romantic-length symphonies, can be too long. Even educated ears have little interest in overlong or over-treated musical expositions.
But like most of Brahms’ works, this symphony is best heard when there’s plenty of time to savor it. Personally, I believe it should be performed in a one-symphony evening—alone, by itself—with nothing else played. A painting on a wall might blend in when surrounded by other pictures. But placed in good light on a neutral background, even the simplest, smallest picture can speak volumes.
Though Brahms’ “Symphony No. 1” is perfectly delightful, there is always the dilemma of orchestral energy reserves fully carrying the piece through, and more importantly, the question of proper audience digestion. While there were a few comments among seasoned Philharmonic goers about the lack of orchestral stamina in some segments, overall, the evening was an all-around success.