Programming two violinists of divergent backgrounds and two works inspired by the four seasons on April 1 might seem an all too obvious bit of foolishness for the Toledo Symphony. Yet last night's concert in the Peristyle was no prank. Rather, it delivered some inspired music-making that is sure to live on in the memories of the 1,300 or so in attendance.
The evening began with the local premiere of a delightful 20th-century composition by Mark O'Connor and concluded with a stunningly revitalized performance by Scott Yoo of an 18th-century workhorse by Antonio Vivaldi.
While both pieces featured soloists, the beauty of the evening was all in the musical fusion fostered between these violinists and the ensemble.
O'Connor, the gifted fiddler turned composer, premiered his 1999 work, The American Seasons. Framed as a classic concerto, O'Connor's work weaves into each movement reminders of the composer's musical journey from folk music of all kinds to pop and classical genres.
From the call-and-response-style opening of Spring to the elaborate fugue and a big cadenza bringing Winter to a dramatic conclusion, this Seasons was rich in color and texture, and it pulsed with a wealth of insistent and lively rhythms. Most eloquent was the elegiac melody opening for Fall.
Yoo provided clear and insistent direction for the orchestra as O'Connor performed. Guitarist Chris Buzzelli added strong harmonic subtext and fresh color to the abundant doublestops, a bluegrass-inspired hallmark of O'Connor's music in every season. The final notes drew an ovation from the audience.
Bravos also rang out following the conclusion of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, performed and conducted by Yoo, a stunning performance that revitalized a work so familiar it almost has become a musical clich.
Body English doesn't begin to describe the animated conducting style of Yoo, a sprightly figure whose musical prowess and artistic power clearly reached even the last row of second violins. Bowing in accord with section leaders as he brought them in, spinning to address the audience with a passage of fiery scales or arpeggios, Yoo was a life force with a violin and racing bow.
His communication with the orchestra yielded delicately soft and transparent passages that would, in a few bow strokes, give way to emphatic fortes. Pushing tempos to NASCAR speeds, Yoo became the eye of a musical storm.
Such is the stuff of musical excitement that filled the summery Peristyle and brought welcome moments of sheer beauty and joy to an appreciative crowd.
The only April Fools were those who missed it.
Sally Vallongo is a former senior staff writer for The Blade.