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Published: Thursday, 5/14/2009

Symphony closes season with program of audience favorites

BY SALLY VALLONGO
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

One year ago, the Toledo Symphony marked its 65th anniversary with a musical popularity contest, offering its audiences the chance to vote on their fave numbers.

Thousands of votes were cast for hundreds of selections beloved by the TSO's large and loyal audience.

The resulting concert was a winner in everyone's eyes.

But it's impossible to cram so many winners into one two-hour program.

So think of this weekend's wrap-up of the 2008-09 concert season, Classics Concerts IX, as People's Choice Redux.

At 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday in the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle, the Symphony will continue what has became a friendly new tradition.

The concert will open with Hector Berlioz's lively Overture to his comic opera, Beatrice and Benedict. Samuel Barber's elegiac "Adagio for Strings," popularized in the sound track for the 1980 film Elephant Man, will launch the post-intermission portion of the program.

Closing the evening is the majestic "Enigma Variations" by Sir Edward Elgar, a compilation of 14 different arrangements of a single theme. Each variation was given the name of a friend by the composer, who refused to explain the memorable theme that weaves through the work.

But it wouldn't be fair if the symphony didn't plug in a surprise number for its grand finale: "Songs of the Auvergne" by Marie-Joseph Canteloube, for soprano and orchestra.

Written between the two World Wars, the work comprises a collection of folk and peasant songs collected by Canteloube, who loved the storied and dramatic region in south central France.

Latin students will recall the name Vercingetorix, a leader of the first Celtic settlers defeated by Roman leader Julius Caesar, who then claimed this wild and verdant area dominated by the mountains of the Massif Central as part of Gaul.

Lyrics are written in Occitan, the original language of the area.

The composer arranged the songs in five volumes and heightened their impact with a full orchestral accompaniment of Impressionistic soaring themes and luminous effects

Also part of the surprise is a dynamic musical duo - conductor Larry Rachleff and soprano Susan Lorette Dunn - up from Texas to take their local bow and lead the orchestra.

Rachleff, who earned his music master's degree at the University of Michigan, is building a significant conducting career alongside his academic duties on the music faculty of the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston.

With a dozen years at Rice as professor of music and music director, Rachleff also is longtime music director of the Rhode Island Philharmonic and heads the Chicago Symphony II, comprising members of the Chicago Lyric Opera orchestra. A busy guest conducting schedule has taken him to Seattle, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Warsaw, Aspen, New York, and Tanglewood.

Rachleff and Dunn are marital as well as musical partners and share a love for Australia, which is Dunn's home. The soprano graduated from the Queensland Conservatory of Music in Brisbane, and has built an award-winning international performing career with stops in Tel Aviv, London, New York, and all over Australia.

Dunn also serves on the Rice faculty as lecturer in voice.

Classics IX will be presented at 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday in the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle. Tickets are $20 and are available at 419-246-8000 or toledosymphony.com.



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