Opening night of the Carmel Symphony Orchestra’s 49th season, Saturday, featured an impressive concert that represented the increasingly high quality of an orchestra that is one of the glittering jewels in the crown of Carmel’s growing arts and culture scene.
Held at The Palladium, at The Center of the Performing Arts, of which is the home of the CSO and one if its resident companies, the concert, “Masterworks 1: Modern Classics,” included works by Mozart and Beethoven. It was led by guest conductor David Commanday who was joined by renowned guest piano soloist Gabriela Martinez. Also featured was a world premiere of a commissioned work by Carmel resident and Anderson University Professor Dr. Caroline KyungA Ahn,
During welcoming remarks Anne Marie Chastaine, newly appointed CSO executive director, a professional musician trained at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music who holds a master’s degree in arts administration, introduced herself. After thanking sponsors, donors, subscribers and attendees, she also expressed gratitude and thanks to Janna Hymes, CSO artistic director of six years, who announced her resignation in a press release distributed earlier that day.
Chastain then introduced maestro Commanday, of Peoria, Ill. who is Artistic Director and Conductor of the Heartland Festival Orchestra, Director of Orchestral Activities and Instructor of Cello at Eastern Illinois University, and Music Director of Youth Music Illinois.
Following Chastain’s remarks Commanday took to the podium to conduct the CSO in “Take Me Home Clouds. Take Me…” a contemporary piece composed by the previously mentioned Korean immigrant, Dr. Ahn. In the program notes Ahn indicated that she was inspired to write the composition after enduring a harrowing plane return flight from Las Vegas to Indianapolis after a family vacation. Upon experiencing severe turbulence, to comfort her children who were travelling with her, she calmed them by talking to them about “our sweet Carmel home and how we would be home soon.” The work describes “My impression of our City of Carmel…very fresh, authentic, fun, urban and beautiful.” she said. Guided vigorously by Commanday the orchestra vividly captured the frightening turbulence followed by the serene aftermath inspired by Ahn’s emotion-packed plane ride and her love of her adopted city, giving CSO’s invigorating performance a filmic quality and made for an affectionate valentine to Carmel.
Joining the orchestra for the second part of the program for Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 20,” was Venezuelan born, Gabriela Martinez, a Juilliard trained pianist, who has performed with some of the finest orchestras and in some of the most prestigious venues in the world. Composed by Mozart in 1875, movie fans who saw the 1984 feature film “Amadeus” may recall makes use of the concerto’s first movement, “Alegro”, when Mozart is stumbling home after an evening with Emmanuel Schikaneder during a night of composing the score of his opera “The Magic Flute.” An excerpt of the second movement (Romanze) plays in the final scene and during the end credits.
The elegant Martinez, who plays the piano, effortlessly, like a prima ballerina dances, lived up to her reputation for lyricism as she caressed the keys in a performance that was as compelling as it was deeply moving. Coaxed by charismatic Commanday, the orchestra, consisting, primarily, of youthful players, never sounded richer or lusher.
Known for his effective communication with both musicians and audiences alike. Harvard-trained Commanday, gave further evidence that he was the ideal choice to lead the CSO in its season opener during stirring Beethoven’s “Symphony. No. 7,” which closed the concert. The piece premiered at an 1813 benefit concert for Austrian soldiers wounded in the Napoleonic Wars. Under Commandy’s seasoned baton, the CSO musicians soared in a colorful performance that displayed exceptional dynamics, phrasing and tempo in their rousing interpretation of Beethoven’s 7th, which he regarded as one of his best.
With the announcement of Hymes surprise departure and the last-minute addition of Commanday as her stand in for the CSO opening night of its 2023-2024 season, there was a lot of change to absorb. However, for all concerned and based on the excellence of the music and caliber of the musicianship exhibited, the recent transition bodes well for an orchestra, beloved by its present fan base but deserving of a wider audience that has yet to discover this best kept secret in Hamilton County, if not Indiana. Hopefully, it is sooner than later that CSO realizes its full potential as a force to be reckoned with in the music world.
For tickets and information about the 2023-2024 Carmel Symphony Orchestra season visit thecenterpresents.org.