The Symphony of Northwest Arkansas under the direction of Paul Haas ushered in the 2012/2013 SoNA concert season with an afternoon of Brahms, Barber and Wagner on Sunday (Sept. 16) at Fayetteville’s Walton Arts Center.
The program was ambitious. The performance was electrifying. It was a concert that renews a communities' love of music and sends concertgoers clamoring for season tickets.
The programing was as big as it was ambitious. SoNA opened with Wagner's Overture to “Tannhauser” and closed with Brahms' Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73. In between Wagner and Brahms, Haas placed the exquisite Barber violin Concerto, Op. 14.
Haas’ conducting was once again inspiring and filled with grace, elegance and confidence and, in the case of the Brahms, more bravura than before.
The orchestra that enjoyed an auspicious 2011-12 season was refocused for 2012-2013 — perhaps re-galvanized is more accurate. There was an attitude of confidence with this orchestra that we hadn't seen or heard before. Perhaps this was due to the sheer enjoyment of their new found caliber of artistry. Perhaps it was due to the fact that they were consistently stunning. And they played like they knew it.
Johannes Brahms completed his Symphony No. 2 in 1877, less than a year after premiering his Symphony No. 1 — surprising considering that it had taken him almost 20 years to complete the first symphony. Brahms, aware that he was living and working in the shadow of Beethoven, even remarked that he felt Beethoven marching behind him.
The second symphony allowed Brahms to be Brahms and Sunday it allowed SoNA to be SoNA.
Performance of the Brahms was a crowning achievement for SoNA’s season opener. The orchestra filled the concert hall with sounds of never ending goodness and light juxtaposed with introspective somber darkness and more intense dramatic color than you bargained for when you purchased your ticket.
For four movements, the SoNA strings were relentlessly rich and full and awe inspiring. The woodwind choir in the third movement provided one of the afternoon's symphonic highlights.
In 1939 Samuel Barber composed, for Iso Briselli, the first two movements of his violin concerto. Briselli was pleased with those two movements but when the third arrived about a month later he expressed disappointment and asked Barber to re write it. Barber refused to re-write. The work, as Barber had written it, premiered in 1941 with Albert Spalding and the Philadelphia Orchestra; Eugene Ormandy conducted.
If the Brahms was a crowning achievement for SoNA's season premier, then Barber's Violin Concerto, Op.14 was the jewel in the crown. Violinist Winona Fifield gave one of those rare performances you never forget. She was perfection. It seemed a marvel at times that she could consistently create such grand art via such concise virtuosic art.
Barber wrote the concerto for Briselli, premiered it with Spalding but for the Walton Arts Center audience of Sunday afternoon, it now belongs to Winona Fifield.
The Wagner grand opening to the SoNA season was just that: grand. In 1845, the opera "Tannhauser" premiered to less-than-favorable reviews. However, over the next couple of decades the opera gradually gained acceptance to become a highlight of any opera season and the overture became a staple of the symphony orchestra canon.
The SoNA brass on occasions overplayed their hand on the Brhams but they were magnificent as Wagner opened the 2012-2013 season for the Symphony Orchestra of Northwest Arkansas. By the end of the Overture’s “Pilgrims' Chorus” the audience was aware that SoNA under Paul Haas' direction was capable of surpassing all expectations. The remaining concert celebrated that fact.