Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Innovative symphony program a reflection on war

Last night’s Toledo Symphony Classics concert was titled “The Soldier’s Tale,” the same as the major work on the program. All three works reflected on war, either armed combat or other conflicts which pit us against one another or even against ourselves.

One of the more innovative programs of music director Stefan Sanderling in recent years, it celebrated not only the orchestra and its talent but showed how more can be more, when allowing other groups to share in the project.

Nothing daring about the opener — “Beethoven’s Overture to Egmont,” a true tale from the Reformation — which the symphony served polished to a fine finish. Its very familiarity served as a launch pad for the big musical splendor of the evening, the orchestra’s premiere of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Concerto Grosso for Three Celli and Orchestra.”

Written in 2001, this big, challenging work set the first three cellists — Martha Reikow, Amy Chang, and Damon Coleman — in the spotlight. While harkening to Baroque music, the big piece had the soloists performing as a trio, as soloists, or in sequence, weaving in and around the orchestra.

The music and the performance were revelatory, as a marker of the progress for this contemporary, often revolutionary composer and as an indicator of the symphony’s development. Could the orchestra of five years ago have played this challenging piece so well?

I don’t think so.

The program was dedicated to major benefactor Rita Barbour Kern, who ought to feel very proud for supporting such an innovative and accomplished ensemble.

The second half of the program was an innovative production of Igor Stravinsky’s 1918 theater piece, “L’Histoire du Soldat.”

Produced in collaboration with the University of Toledo, its Glacity Theatre Troupe, and Toledo Ballet, it offered a fresh and lively version of the Faustian tale of the devil and his mark, in this case, a hapless soldier.

Cornel Gabara, who directed Every Good Boy Deserves Favour in 2011 for the Toledo Symphony’s debut at Carnegie Hall, showed even bigger chops and more expansive vision in bringing this allegory to life.

Choreographer Michael Lang created effective and expansive movement for the four dancers. Actors Qarie Marshall (as the Devil and other characters), Phillipe Taylor (the soldier), and Edmund Lingan, narrator, imbued the production with puckish humor and grace.

Clad in white, Sanderling directed the eight instrumentalists in a pit in front of the Peristyle stage, putting the focus on the stage action. The result, while overlong, was a worthy revival of a piece rarely performed and it advanced the cause of cooperation and brotherhood overcoming the ongoing struggles which, time and again, bring us into conflict.

This program repeats at 8 p.m. today in the Peristyle. Tickets are $25-52 at 419-246-8000 or

Contact Sally Vallongo at:

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