Something wonderful happened to the Toledo Symphony Friday night in the first of two Classics Concerts this weekend.
The something was guest conductor Julian Kuerti in his local debut.
Powerful Pairings was the title of the concert dedicated to longtime arts supporters Fritz and Mary Wolfe, and featuring Toledo pianists Frances Renzi and Samantha Biniker in the premiere of Mozart's Concerto for Two Pianos.
But it was Kuerti and his very evident chemistry with the TSO that made the evening so memorable.
Tall and confident with fluent hands and clear beat, Kuerti achieved that rare state in which a conductor induces an orchestra to play far better than its musicians expected they would.
It was a win-win, leaving the audience cheering with delight and the orchestra knowing it truly earned the bravos and ovations.
From the opening work, Samuel Barber's Essay No. 2, a complex and varied study of an angular theme, the orchestra seemed ready to rock and roll under Kuerti.
During the Mozart, the large orchestra provided solid and nuanced accompaniment for Renzi and Biniker. The soloists found a well-tempered style that allowed room for individuality as well as graceful communion.
And how touching it was to consider two artists at opposite ends of their careers able to meet so gracefully over 176 keys.
But the real star of the evening was the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4, brought to astonishing life and clarity by the TSO and Kuerti.
The conductor's ability to emphasize drama and his way of pulling a luxurious sound from the string sections made the first movement - a symphonic work in itself - endlessly fascinating.
It was clear Kuerti recognized the strength of woodwind and brass players, giving them minimal cues while lavishing attention on violins, violas, and cellos to great effect.
The third movement scherzo seemed to dance off the plucked strings, so delicate was the approach.
But Kuerti had one more trick: turning the dramatic final movement into a tour de force. Marked as allegro con fuoco (fast with fire), it was more jet-propelled in tempo, yet transparent and balanced right up to the thrilling final chords.
Powerful Pairings will repeat at 8 p.m. today in the Peristyle. Tickets start at $20 at the door.
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