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Published: Thursday, 2/21/2008

TSO offers a pair of gourmet weekend concerts


Concocting a classical music concert can be compared to cooking a gourmet meal. Every ingredient must be obtained - even if it means seeking out things rare and unusual from far away.

Such is the case for the Toledo Symphony's pair of Classics Series concerts tomorrow and Saturday in the Peristyle.

To lead the local musicians, a conductor for this eclectic program has been imported from Canada. And not just any conductor. Once more maestro-composer Yoav Talmi, whose debut in Toledo five years ago left a memorable taste, will be leading the orchestra. Yes, you might think of this special guest as a musical chef.

Talmi, an Israeli by birth, has established an international reputation as a conductor and composer who talks softly and wields a big baton.

One of the best lessons he has learned, Talmi told La Scena Musicale, a European arts publication, was "how the conductor can successfully transmit his ideas to the musicians without scaring them, and how to get results through the love of their work rather than fear."

Currently artistic director and conductor of the Quebec Symphony Orchestra, Talmi led an all-Beethoven program here in March, 2003. This time, the Juilliard School graduate and Koussevitzky conducting prize-winner will lead a program of Mozart, Talmi, and Berlioz.

His contemporary remix of music from Mozart's opera classic, Marriage of Figaro, will lead off the program. Then will come some actual Mozart, the composer's beloved Symphonie Concertante for violin and viola soloists and orchestra.

For Valentin Ragusitu, principal violist (Blade Foundation Chair) of the symphony, it will be a rare opportunity to perform in front of his orchestra rather than inside it.

"Usually when you play this type of performance, they hire soloists," noted Ragusitu, who joined the orchestra in 1999. "Here, I heard Kirk had played it with the orchestra three times."

So up stepped the Romanian violinist to join his colleague, concertmaster Kirk Toth (Lenore and Marvin Kobacker Chair) for his local solo debut. "The piece is a masterpiece, very beautiful, very brilliant," adds Ragusitu.

This symphony season has seen several soloists for its Classics Series come from within its ranks. This year, so far, Georg Klaas and Jocelyn Langworthy, clarinetists, have soloed. So has Merwin Siu, principal second violin (David W. Robinson Chair). Still to come is principal trombonist Garth Simmons (Edward H. Schmidt Chair).

The centerpiece of this delicious program will be served in the second half: Hector Berlioz's thrilling Symphonie Fantastique. Written in 1830 by this very progressive and ingenious French composer, the five-movement work has become Berlioz's signature piece and is considered the first major program symphony, an extended tone poem dealing with life, death, good, and evil.

Symphonie Fantastique also is special, according to principal percussionist Gabe Sobieski (Pilkington Chair), because of the unusual instrument it requires. Church bells - cast bronze bells pitched to C and G. They are sounded dirge-like during the final movement.

"It's the only piece in the orchestral repertoire using them," notes Sobieski. And, says the percussionist who joined the symphony in 2004, only major orchestras can afford to own bells, which ring up at around $10,000. So, another ingredient was imported for this show.

On Tuesday, symphony stage manager Tim Lake picked up the Cleveland Orchestra's set of bells, courtesy of Richard Weiner, the CO's principal percussionist and former teacher of Sobieski.

Manufactured by the Verdin Co. of Cincinnati, the bells weigh more than 100 pounds each and are mounted on sturdy stands. "The clapper has been removed and put on a stick," notes Sobieski, who will play the bells in both concerts. "It looks like a shotput ball."

"Rich Weiner has found the best spot to hit it," says Sobieski, who adds that the symphony has taken out special insurance on the bells, which, like the Liberty Bell, can crack under pressure.

Placement of the big borrowed chimers is to be chosen by Talmi but one thing is clear as a bell: they won't be onstage.

The Toledo Symphony, with guest conductor Yoav Talmi and soloists Valentin Ragusitu, violist, and Kirk Toth, violinist, will perform music by Berlioz, Mozart, and Talmi at 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday in the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle. Tickets are $20-$47 at 419-246-8000 or www.toledosymphony.com.

Contact Sally Vallongo at: svallongo@theblade.com.

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