The Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra’s Year of Change, during which three excellent guest conductors will direct the programs while the orchestra seeks a new music director, opened auspiciously last Saturday evening at the Anne S. Richardson Auditorium with selections that were alternately musically thrilling and wonderfully rewarding emotionally. Barbara Yahr, who is both an internationally celebrated conductor and a certified musical therapist, was on the podium for works that included the Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 1, the world premiere of Chris Brubeck’s Sphere of Influence, Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, and Antonin Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 (from the New World).
After a warmly energetic performance of the Brahms Hungarian Dance, the audience was treated to a different but equally warm and energetic listening experience — Grammy-nominated composer Chris Brubeck’s Sphere of Influence, which was commissioned by the RSO as a collaborative work for the orchestra and SPHERE, an organization that provides training and opportunities for individuals with developmental and emotional disabilities to improve their self-confidence and ability to socialize. In addition to fine orchestral writing and orchestration, the work featured a multifaceted performance by the SPHERE Music and Performing Group, directed by Kim Pereira and with additional choreographic training from Amy Piantaggini and dancers from the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance.
The SPHERE participants did a wonderful job with their speaking, singing and dancing, ending with four of their members holding letters to form the word LOVE. The audience showed their love and appreciation with several minutes of enthusiastic standing ovation.
Violinist Yevgeny Kutik gave an extraordinarily fine performance of the Bruch concerto, which, replete with both virtuosic display and lyric beauty, has remained a favorite work with both audiences and performers from its first performance on. Enhanced by an impressive partnership between soloist and orchestra, Kutik masterfully handled it throughout, with a rich, warm violin tone, sensitive shadings and flawless virtuosity. His performance got the evening’s second very long standing ovation.
No. 1 last year and No. 2 this year on radio station WQXR’s list of its audience’s 100 Favorite Classical Works, Dvořák’s New World Symphony, always a welcome treat, was never more so than Saturday evening. The orchestra was in top form, and Maestro Yahr’s interpretation and subtle control of Dvořák’s lyricism and dynamically shifting rhythms and nuances provided a very enjoyable listening experience. Everything was well done, but a special kudos must go to the RSO’s longest-serving orchestral performer, Susan Goff, for her solo English horn playing of the famous Goin Home theme in the second movement.