Bloomington Herald Times
One noticed few if any mustaches on stage at Bloomington High School North Saturday evening but heard a whole lot of melodies during a Bloomington Symphony Orchestra concert labeled “Mustaches & Melodies.” The BSO’s music director, Charles Latshaw, had designed the program with the help of a committee of players, a program that focused on music of three melodists: Brahms, Faure and Dvorak, all of whom grew mustaches to mark their features.
In the scheme of things, the mustaches proved of little consequence, save as a promotional gimmick, but the melodies counted significantly. So did how the orchestra played those melodies, which, I’m pleased to say, was with often glowing tone and with an obvious sense for the jubilation that the composer surely intended, a sense imbued by a conductor with the gift of instructing and inspiring.
That reality was evident immediately when Latshaw bounded on stage all smiles and enthusiasm, gave the downbeat, and his musicians, a number of them also smiling, tore into Brahms’ “Academic Festival Overture” as if they were playing for the audience that attended the academic honorary degree celebration in 1881 at which the piece was introduced.
Tore they did, stressing the exuberant nature of a work built on student songs of the time and the climaxing tune still prominent on campuses round-and-about, “Gaudeamos igitur.” Latshaw used the intermission to reinforce the message of the performance, addressing the method Brahms used in composing this famous piece and then calling upon a chorus of men from the orchestra to sing passages from those student songs. These informal and informed “Chats with Charles” during the interval are proving to be an attractive feature at BSO programs. They fit into Latshaw’s efforts to make attendance at an orchestra concert more inviting and comfortable for newcomers.
Pre-intermission, the orchestra also played Gabriel Faure’s “Dolly” Suite, six brief pieces the composer designed to reflect the young daughter of his mistress. Originally written for piano four hands, they were orchestrated by Henri Rabaud. The music throughout is genial, including a “Berceuse” or lullaby, a lively portrait of Dolly’s brother, a romp with the family dog, and more. Among the “more” was a Spanish dance rocking with rhythms that Latshaw and colleagues interpreted with almost unbounded and certainly catching energy.
Dvorak’s Symphony Number 8, which closed the concert, is a musical love poem to the composer’s native Bohemia, written just before he left for an extended stay in the United States. Sunshine, verdant fields and hillsides, abundant forests, and happy folks are perceivable in this upbeat score. Only the more somber second movement, an Adagio, suggests Dvorak was concentrating his thoughts on departure. Most of the symphony reflects joy and, perhaps, gratitude for what life and country had given him. At any rate, the BSO’s reading was strikingly ebullient and nicely coordinated. Conductor and orchestra make fine team. They believe in each other; results show it.