"Four and a half stars

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Conner Prairie, Aug. 3-4

On a steamy evening, guest conductor and pianist Barry Douglas with the ISO shared a superb set of compositions, taking us into and outside of ourselves. Setting the mood with Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni, Douglas quipped, “If this opera is about the Don descending into hell …” The audience bonded and never let go. Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K.503 teases into cognizance, leading us here and there as in a game of blind-man’s-bluff, yet the simple music box melody in variations and dissections brings us back to a familiar landmark and we feel safe. Mozart is taking us into his confidence, revealing his soul, his own journey to safety in an increasingly challenging situation — personal justice and freedom seeming out of reach. Following this sparkling work with Beethoven’s massive, sweepingly grand, imperious Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 (“Emperor”) gave us everything we need to try to make sense of the world. Beethoven was writing in the midst of battles raging around him — Napoleon was invading Vienna. The seeming hero of communal justice and freedom had feet of clay. The ISO players matched Douglas’ interpretive powers and virtuosity at every turn. The expected war between soloist and orchestra became instead a treatise in mutuality from differing vantage points. The evening sent us home better equipped for sensing beleaguered reality while finding that single note to connect us with the desire to make the world a better place. Mozart the humanist and Beethoven communing with an unattainable Beyond. Great stuff. 

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