Syracuse Symphony Orchestra with the souls of Beethoven and Rachmaninoff

The Syracuse Symphony Orchestra was joined by guest artist Jon Kimura Parker for an evening that rejoiced in the spirit of Romanticism.

Many composers have had to write against the odds.

Beethoven fought a long battle with poor mental health which was further undermined by the French invasion of Vienna at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Rachmaninoff suffered from a serious bout of depression after the failure of his first symphony in 1897. It wasn’t until several years later that he moved to Dresden, Germany in order make a second attempt, the result which was an hour long.

The Syracuse Symphony Orchestra played a shortened version of this second symphony in E-minor last night after a performance of Beethoven’s “Emperor” concerto in E-flat major with Jon Kimura Parker.

Rachmaninoff's struggle to master the genre of the symphony is especially prominent in the first movement, where he searches for melodic development that is both musically innovative and able to mirror his complex personality as a composer.

Long-winded themes that build in raw emotion created a challenge for the orchestra. Daniel Hege used intense gestures to generate emotional turbulence. The crescendi were powerful despite the need for more free-flowing legato. The orchestra fared better in faster passages toward the end of the first movement that are packed with dramatic tension.

Hege coaxed the strings to reasonably fluid phrasing in the Adagio movement. The swelling melodies rose and fell elegantly. The oboe solo was performed delicately over a muted orchestra. For the final movement, which is marked by triumphant outbursts played in unison, the orchestra played on point, if not with marked concentration, and brought the music steadily to a climax.

Beethoven’s “Emperor” concerto in E-flat major, which evokes the rise and fall of Vienna, was polished and musically sound. The orchestra’s interpretation was more dynamic than its performance of the same piece with Tanya Bannister two weeks ago at Syracuse University.

The first movement of the concerto is a showcase for the soloist with endless scales, contrapuntal melodies, trills and sudden dynamic changes.

Jon Kimura Parker is a skilled pianist. With a broad-shouldered, muscular frame, he was fully in control of the technical and musical demands of piece. He played through fast passages with lightning speed and precision, but was able to switch gears smoothly for slower, lyrical moments.

His use of fortissimo was often too forceful, nearly blowing the orchestra out of its seat at times, but he also mastered a gentle enough pianissimo to soothe the listener.

Hege drew soaring, nostalgic themes from the orchestra, particularly in the strings. The trumpets were serene, but sounded a bit dull at times. The winds similarly did not always resound to their full potential. The phrasing overall could have been more emotionally intense, with better use of rubato.

The orchestra’s playing improved as the piece unfolded, mastering the syncopated rhythms with bounce and flare. Kimura Parker similarly overcame his tendency toward a somewhat heavy-handed approach and created a leaner sound more in keeping with the spirit of the music.

After the concerto came to a triumphant close and met with roaring applause, Kimura Parker asked in jest, “What do you play after that?”

He proceeded to perform the Adagio movement from Beethoven’s “Sonata Pathetique,” which shares a mood of resigned melancholy and complacence with the slow passages for piano in the “Emperor” concerto.

The unbridled Romanticism of the evening allowed for an unusual occasion of emotional catharsis on the part of both the performers and the audience.




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