Hilbert Circle Theatre; Oct. 8-10.
After strongly ingratiating himself with its players in last season's final (June) concert, Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena appeared again on last weekend's Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra podium for a somewhat less than galvanizing evening. Felix Mendelssohn dominated the program - a celebration of the 200th anniversary of his birth. ISO associate concertmaster Alex Kerr was soloist in the composer's Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64, one of the four greatest violin concerto warhorses of the 19th century. The program ended with Mendelssohn's celebrated "Reformation" Symphony (No. 5 in D, Op. 107) and opened with Aus Schwanengesang by IU-based composer Claude Baker. Perhaps he was having an off-night, but Kerr's solo work in the violin concerto disappointed. His tone variable, his phrasing inarticulate, his pitch uncertain, his fast passage work in the Finale unclear, the concerto seemed to run away from him. Kerr is a better violinist than what he showed Friday evening. Aus Swanengesang is Baker's five-part nod to Schubert's Schwanengesang song cycle, but his most prominent flash-back was to the opening movement of Beethoven's last piano sonata, Op. 111. Generic contemporary cacophony interspersed with simple tunes offered little emotional quivering. Mena got the most ingratiating performance with the "Reformation" Symphony, with its first-movement nod to the "Dresden Amen" - better associated with Wagner's final opera Parsifal - plus its grander final-movement statement of the Protestant chorale "A Mighty Fortress." Still, the second movement had more than its share of imprecision, especially from the winds. And the final movement lost part of its solemnity in Mena's racing tempo.