Emotional thermostats in the Peristyle Friday night soared into the red zone during the Toledo Symphony Classics 5 concert, which focused on heat in its many forms.
There was the heat of battle described in the opening work: Rossini’s Overture to The Siege of Corinth.
Written early in the 1820s, when Greece was trying to overthrow Turkish rule, its political inspiration counters a tendency to pigeonhole the Italian composer for his many more lighthearted operas.
Guest conductor James Meena raised the energy of the evening immediately during a crisp and forceful reading of the work. He then not only sustained but raised that intensity during a long and fascinating evening.
The Toledo Museum of Art’s stately hall was abuzz with a far larger and more age-diverse crowd. (The couple sitting behind us nattered on about Tweets and Facebook before the music started. Please come back.)
No doubt the higher occupancy was because of fans of singers in the massive choir used for Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, the final work. Several Bowling Green State University choirs filled the back half of the Peristyle for the performance.
Prepared by Mark Munson and Tim Cloeter, they did BGSU proud with spirited, precise, and beautifully enunciated singing. Equally fine was the Ottawa Hills Elementary Brown Bag Choir, prepared by Donna Tozer Wipfli.
The entire performance of the Orff work was memorable, with fine balance between the orchestra and choirs. Meena pushed every tempo and demanded and got great clarity from the instrumentalists. The sum of its many, many parts emerged with impressive coherence, balance, and power. The super titles were a great aid to understanding the overall picture.
Soloists on loan from the Toledo Opera — baritone Philip Cutlip, tenor Joshua Stewart, and soprano Kathryn Lewek — brought both exquisite vocal quality and impressive acting chops to their solos. (If you loved their work this weekend, don’t miss next weekend when they bring to life Mozart’s Don Giovanni.)
Still, anyone who came to hear the Orff got maybe the best musical bonus of this season — and certainly of the evening — a chance to witness the North American premiere of Fazil Say’s emotive, complex, and compelling violin concerto, “1001 Nights in the Harem.”
Brought to life by principal second violinist Merwin Siu, with absolutely superb support from the orchestra, this 30-minute composition created the most artistic heat of the night.
Say, a Turkish pianist and composer, wrought an exotic yet musically solid work that, in four movements, traverses as many styles, colors, and historic references as the Meander, Turkey’s most famed river.
Siu, with total aplomb and remarkable artistic vision, brought the piece fully to life, imbuing it with the respect it deserves and the excitement that reached out to every single listener. He pulled many surprising sounds and effects from his instrument, yet never lost the big picture that was this wonderful piece of music.
American musical history was made Friday night with this performance. It’s not to be missed.
The program will repeat at 8 p.m. today in the Peristyle. For tickets and information, call 419-246-8000 or www.toledosymphony.com.