Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
Classical Series Program No. 8
Hilbert Circle Theatre
Young Swiss Guiliano Sommerhalder made his first US orchestral performance here.
After a month of Yuletide celebrating, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra launched the new year with three debuts: Young Swiss trumpeter Giuliano Sommerhalder made his first U.S. orchestral appearance here; he played the first ISO performance of Johann Hummel's Trumpet Concerto in E.; and Simon Crookall, the orchestra's brand new president and CEO, who just replaced the outgoing Richard Hoffert, made his first appearance before the audience following intermission with a short, personable and engaging introduction speech. We all wish him well.
Brazilian guest conductor Roberto Minczuk, co-artistic director of the São Paulo State Symphony and associate conductor of the New York Philharmonic, made yet another ISO podium appearance of his several in recent years. In a rare departure from the norm, Minczuk's program included nothing written later than 1840, to which the modest-sized Friday audience didn't appear to object. In yet another change from convention, Minczuk began with a symphony and ended with an overture.
Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68 ("Pastorale"), opened the program. The five-movement (yet another change from the conventional four), 40-minute symphony shows the composer's genius in suggesting rustic, country folkways in a relaxed but motif-driven structure. The motifs are repeated over and over throughout; there is very little lyric tension; yet Beethoven compels as no other composer could have with this kind of writing. His smallish orchestra adds trombones and timpani in the fourth movement ("Thunderstorm") and retains the trombones for his lovely Finale, which he described as "Happy, grateful feelings after the storm." The symphony was an excellent concert opener.
Hummel (1778-1837) wrote his Trumpet Concerto in 1803, with its world premiere given on New Year's Day, 1804 - making its appearance last weekend near its 201st anniversary. According to a reliable source, it was written in E-flat but was later changed to E-natural for reasons lost to history.
Other sources say Hummel first wrote it in E, and then switched it to E-flat. The work is mostly recorded in the latter key; however, Minczuk and 19-year-old Sommerhalder chose the former one. Such a half-step key change by a composer appears unique in classical literature.
In any case, Sommerhalder showed the makings of a great trumpeter, easily managing all the concerto's solo display work while delivering well-burnished sustained tones. His standing ovation was well-deserved. Now let's hear the much greater Haydn Trumpet Concerto (always in E-flat), written just seven years earlier and not given in this series since ... I can't remember when.
Minczuk's program ended with the earliest Wagner concert excerpt with a stylistically mature stamp, the Overture to his third opera, Rienzi (1840). As the only offering using the full ISO instrumental complement, its choice as the program capper was obvious. An engaging 12 minutes of early drama merging into a festive ending, the piece opens with a solo trumpet swelling from soft to full-volume on a concert "A" - nicely rendered by ISO principal Marvin Perry - and repeated several times throughout.
Though there may have been a few nits to pick here and there, Minczuk delivered his best ISO podium work to date.