Friday, October 20, 2006

Nashville Symphony's towering concert

Posted By on Fri, Oct 20, 2006 at 7:08 PM

The Nashville Symphony Orchestra refuses to play it safe. This season, the orchestra is performing a new and unfamiliar work on every one of its classical programs, meaning the musicians must learn a new and thorny contemporary piece at the rate of about one every two weeks. A lot of orchestras would consider that to be recklessly ambitious. But on Thursday at Schermerhorn Symphony Center, the NSO gave a rendition of Joan Tower's Chamber Dance that was so authoritative you would have thought they'd been playing the brand new piece for years.

Lasting about 15 minutes, Chamber Dance opens with virtuosic music for the entire orchestra. Eventually, certain instruments begin to pair off — violin and clarinet, two trumpets, etc. — and soon they're performing as full-fledged duets (hence the reason Tower called this piece a dance). Guest conductor Anu Tali led the NSO in a rendition that was remarkable both for its power and precision. Violinist Soovin Kim, who soloed in Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5, is justly famous for his technique, which appears to know no difficulty. Yet on Thursday Kim was most memorable for the sheer beauty of his sound, for his melting tone and impeccable phrasing. Tali led the NSO in accompaniment that was tasteful and elegant, and that paid attention to such niceties of 18th-century performance practice as contrasting dynamics and phrasing.

The highlight of the program came at the end, with NSO's performance of Sibelius' Symphony No. 2. This is a monumental piece, full of unforgettable melodies and vivid orchestral colors, and the NSO did it justice, playing it with intelligence and heartfelt emotion. You'd be crazy to miss one of this weekend's repeat performances.

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