Yumi Hwang-Williams and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra Ascend to New Heights
Colorado Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Principal Guest Conductor Douglas Boyd, soared through music of French and English Composers of the early 20th Century. Two pieces, The Lark Ascending by Vaughn-Williams and Tzigane by Ravel, featured the amazing CSO Concert Master Yumi Hwang-Williams on violin. The concert was captivating from start to finish with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra nimbly capturing the numerous colors of the nuanced music.
The concert opened with Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin, a filmic score with demanding passages for both woodwinds and strings. Douglas Boyd cunningly cajoled the musical coloring capturing both the broad spectrum of dynamics and the subtle shifts in timbre. At moments the music is playful, then dark and soulful. Colorado Symphony Orchestra obviously really enjoyed the challenge and met it with aplomb.
Yumi Hwang-Williams often plays the small solo violin sections in concerts, but we do not often get to hear her featured as a soloist. Her remarkable grace with Lark Ascending was equally matched by her searing virtuosity with Tzigane. Vaugh-Williams "Romance for Violin and Orchestra" begins with the soloist fluttering through the hall over a subtle near silent sustain by the orchestra. Douglas Boyd masterfully maintained a tight rein over the orchestra keeping the dance between soloist and ensemble exquisitely elegant. The music floated through the audience with such grace the consummate control by both Maestro Boyd and soloist Hwang-Williams that their performance appeared effortless.
The Ravel Tzigane, Concert Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra followed Lark Ascending. It begins bold and beautiful with a rich violin solo showing the depth and range of the low G string. The theme moves from the lowest range on the violin, slowly climbing until the full range of the string is explored all the while keeping the sumptuous sonorities of the G string. As the orchestra joins the feast, the sonic world changes. Even though the music was written in 1924, the sonancy is similar to music composed by James McMillan (a current British composer championed by Douglas Boyd). The theme of Tzigane shifts from an Eastern European gypsy motif to flurries of amazing color and timbre. Yumi Hwang-Williams displayed passionate pizzicato, a flurry of double stops and as the piece came to a close, blistering speed as both her bow and fingering blurred into blaze of sound. The audience erupted into a standing ovation recalling Ms Hwang-Williams to the stage three times. While Mastro Boyd accompanied her for two of these to also give the orchestra credit for the sparkling performance, he clearly understood Ms Hwang-Williams deserved center stage acclaim.
The second half of the concert was Elgar's Enigma Variations. A collection of fourteen variations based in part on how Elgar assumed how his friends might compose a piece. The orchestra explored a variety of characters beautifully painted. Rather than setting a scene, or painting a picture, Elgar gives us a glimpse of the characteristics of his friends: with beautifully tender sentiments toward his wife, the playful oboe for author Richard Townsend whose voice cracks, the bluster of William Baker portrayed by bold brass and the deep friendship of August Jaeger. Through each short movement we get not only a glimpse into the character of Elgar's friends, but the rich emotional attachment he holds for them. Any one of these pieces would highlight the attitudes of a friend, but also paid sincere tribute to each of them. The glorious ninth piece for August Jaeger shows the depth of their friendship with music unequaled in its esteem of another.
This is the last weekend to see Principal Guest Conductor Douglas Boyd lead the CSO for this season. He is a remarkable young conductor with skill at capturing the depth of music, while translating that through the orchestra for a remarkable performance. The 2009-2010 Colorado Symphony Orchestra season is coming to a close and will be the last for Jeffery Kahane. Perhaps Maestro Boyd will take up the baton as Principal Conductor next year for an entire season of his talents rather than just a couple of weekends.