BYU PHILHARMONIC, de Jong Concert Hall, Harris Fine Arts Center, Brigham Young University, Feb. 18
Too often university orchestras aren’t given the opportunity to play to their potential. But when a conductor with vision is united with exceptionally talented players, nothing is impossible. That’s certainly the case with Kory Katseanes and the Brigham Young University Philharmonic. Since joining the Provo school as director of orchestras (and now also head of the school of music), Katseanes has constantly raised the bar – and his young musicians have continually risen to the challenge. It’s really no exaggeration to say that the philharmonic is without question one of the top notch university orchestras in the country.
This was driven home again Saturday when Katseanes and the philharmonic made school history by playing Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben, a work of epic proportions.
Strauss was a master of orchestration. He wrote for an orchestra of virtuosos, so it’s no mean accomplishment when an orchestra, especially a university orchestra, programs one of his tone poems. And when the work in question is Ein Heldenleben, then the accomplishment is certainly one to take notice of.
Every time one hears the philharmonic one is amazed by the dedication these young artists bring to their playing, and by the conviction and earnestness of their performances. And one is also always astonished by the way Katseanes manages to raise the standard of playing. At Saturday’s concert, the musicians of the philharmonic showed what they are capable of given the chance. They brought a level of professionalism to their performance that was remarkable. One frequently forgot that this was a student orchestra playing – it was that good.
Precision, clarity and articulation are so important to a successful interpretation of Strauss’ works, and that was what Katseanes got from his players. All of the sections played wonderfully, and the many solos scattered throughout were polished and nuanced. Particularly outstanding was concertmaster Aubrey Woods. Musicality and technique were evident in equal measure in her lengthy solos in the “Hero’s Companion” section. These were played with feeling and expressiveness and shimmering beauty.
The concert opened with two contrasting, and much shorter, works: Ludwig van Beethoven’s overture to Egmont and Felix Mendelssohn’s Die schöne Melusine. The orchestra infused both pieces with vibrant and well crafted playing.
Katseanes can certainly be proud of his musicians – as they can of what they achieved. It was indeed a magical evening for everyone.