Classical Music Review | What you missed "If you"re with him, you can take any excess; if you"re not, you can"t suffer the next bar." I was pondering this statement, made years ago about "interpretive" conductors by a departed influence in my life, while listening last Friday to the debut of Mario Venzago as the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra"s newly-appointed music director. After three classical concerts with guest conductors in September and October, none of which truly sparked the scant audiences, Venzago"s appearance, the first of only three this season, produced a nearly filled Hilbert Circle Theatre - not to mention a firm and fully packed Wood Room for his interview in the pre-concert Words on Music. The feeling was electrifying.
ISO"s Nov. 1 concert is the first of three concerts conducted by Mario Venzago.
Venzago"s program, one he didn"t choose, consisted of two Rossini overtures, the Victor Herbert Cello Concerto No. 2, Op. 30 (1894) with guest cellist Lynn Harrell and Dvorak"s ever popular Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 ("From the New World"). Herbert (1859-1924), an Irish-American operetta composer, known for such entertainments as Naughty Marrietta and Babes in Toyland, produced a number of concert works. His three-movement cello concerto - dominated by a motif right out of Tchaikovsky"s short, symphonic ballad The Voyavode (1891) - couldn"t have had a better exponent than Harrell. He then topped himself with an encore: the BourÈe from Bach"s Suite No. 3 in C for solo cello, BWV 1009, which he dedicated to Venzago. From the time Venzago walked onstage to conduct Rossini"s unknown Overture to Il viaggio a Reims to the final standing ovation given him following the "New World" Symphony, the audience and the players clearly were "with him" and could "take any excess." And so was I - for the most part. First of all, Venzago is a solo player"s dream of a conductor. Roger Roe"s English horn work in the "New World"s" Largo was as affecting as I"ve ever heard it, due, in no small part, to the conductor"s control of the support-ensemble dynamics. Venzago allowed Roe"s hauntingly nostalgic line to shine through like a halo. Venzago later did the same for the muted violins, vividly landscaping that entire movement as I"ve never quite previously experienced it. He achieved with the Largo what he appears to attempt with all works under his baton: recharge, revivify and reintroduce them. Perhaps it"s too early to expect the players to follow Venzago"s "vision" (as he has termed it) successfully in every case. Especially for a conductor who widely varies the tempo, who stretches intervals from one phrase to the next, who punctuates musical points with pregnant pauses. Except for running the loud passages like a race horse in the Dvorak, he astutely avoids mannerisms: You don"t know what to expect next and are then pleased that what you hear seems to work. Venzago held these traits more in abeyance in Rossini"s Reims and Semiramide Overtures - but gave the opening horn work in the latter the opportunity to shine on its own. As a side note, the new stage risers for the winds, brass, and percussion were finally in place, and the heretofore inaudible bass drum resonated up at least to the 1st mezzanine.