Classical music review | what you missed From one end of the hall to the other, applause plus "ooohs" and "ahs" were heard in abundance as the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra patrons, many in formal attire, stared in wonderment at the astonishingly beautiful, refurbished Hilbert Circle Theatre stage. This 13th ISO Gala, which effectively launches Indy"s 2002-"03 classical season, also saw the return of former ISO music director John Nelson. As it happened, Nelson first exposed the orchestra to the Circle in 1982 as a possible venue change from Clowes Hall, in the wake of increasing conflicts between Butler University - Clowes" owner - and the orchestra. What Nelson saw in 1982 was an unkempt, abandoned movie house with lots of potential. What he saw last Sunday was a venue in which the stage now perfectly complements the completely refurbished 1916-period architecture.

John Nelson conducted the ISO in the refurbished Hilbert Circle Theatre for the opening Gala.

Nonetheless, the driving force behind the orchestra"s spending $2.75 million of a Lilly Endowment grant was to improve the players" onstage acoustics - and in that they appear to have succeeded, according to a number of player comments (even off the record). But whether wittingly or no, the change has markedly affected the sound in the hall itself. One word describes it: reverberation. It"s gone way up from the usually dry (for a symphonic hall) presentation we"ve mostly heard the past 18 years. When I heard, a few days earlier, an acoustic "dry run" of the new stage with the orchestra playing to an empty hall, the reverb was excessive on both the main floor and the mezzanines, creating a wash of opulence largely devoid of clear articulation. The first and second violins were especially hard to hear. Not so with Sunday"s hall, filled to capacity (people are excellent sound absorbers). The hall retains its liveness but was tamed enough to provide added richness without sacrificing clarity. Now, especially, people should visit the Hilbert Circle Theatre for both its visual and sonic splendor (as did both our mayor and governor on Sunday). So what about the concert? Opening its 73rd season, as usual, with our National Anthem, the orchestra began with Johann Strauss JR"s rousing Overture to Die Fledermaus. And Nelson concluded with two even-more-rousing Slavonic Dances of Dvorak, inserting a delightfully languid one in between them. Violinist Jaime Laredo, who"s in town presiding over the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis jury, joined Nelson and the orchestra in Samuel Barber"s early Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14 (1940). Laredo found the time to provide a stylish account of its first two Romantically-inclined movements, and a virtuosic performance of its rapid, thorny, Barber-looks-to-the-future final movement. Nelson followed the concerto with another Strauss: this time not the Viennese waltz king, but the Germanic Richard, represented by one of his splendid tone poems, Till Eulenspiegel"s Merry Pranks, Op. 28. As with this program"s other "rousing" pieces, Nelson - having ceased using a baton since his 1976-1987 ISO tenure - offered more excitement and adrenaline than polish.

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