A regional symphony orchestra, like the Des Moines Symphony, is often obligated, even if unwittingly, to be the main representative of large ensemble classical repertoire in their area. There is a beautiful balance in that when it comes to programming. There are instances of premieres and relatively recent works (not as many as I would personally like but that is a review for another day.) Then, there are concerts like the 2016-2017 Season Debut on Sunday, September 25th, which found the symphony performing Rossini’s Overture to William Tell, J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major (BWV 1050), and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125. A masterworks concert, indeed.
The Des Moines Symphony’s performance of William Tell Overture was precise and resonant. This excellent cohesiveness in the ensemble was reassuring since it is likely many of these players have been acquainted with this piece since their supposed youth symphony days. Julie Sturm, Principal Cellist and holder of The Robert & Gloria Burnett Endowed Chair, played the opening cello solo with grace fully exploiting the richly gilded sounds of her instrument. It was truly a pleasure to hear the audience members nearby react when familiar melodies appeared. The listeners were clearly less familiar with the Brandenburg, but the smaller chamber ensemble of players did an equally fine job with its performance. A trio of soloists; Kayla Burggraf, Jonathan Sturm, and Gregory Hand, were excellent guides to the elegance and refinement of their individual and ensemble musical line. Burggraf deserves special mention for a number of magnificent and skillfully played solos throughout the afternoon’s performance.
The expectations raised after the first two performances were not as keenly met in the final performance of the afternoon, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125. I stopped short of the “wows” elicited by some of my fellow audience members following the final cutoff by the noticeable aspects of disjointed entrances and tempo changes. There were some special moments of note. Dashon Burton, the bass soloist, overcame the difficult stage position in which the soloists were placed with his impressively clear and abundant tone. The tenor soloist, Scott Ramsay, demonstrated a lovely bloom in the voice during his marcato solo. There were also shining moments of second violin and viola soli sections in the Adagio molto e cantabile. While the over-singing was clearly an attempt to compete with the heavy-handed orchestral sound looming in front of them, the Drake Choir, Simpson College Chamber Singers, and Des Moines Vocal Arts Ensemble sounded well-prepared.
One would hope that along with the obligation to perform masterworks, the Des Moines Symphony would continue to endeavor to celebrate why these compositions are considered masterworks. It isn’t, as they aptly demonstrated earlier in the concert, simply because they are loud. The work of all involved to uphold the musical integrity of these giants of the canon does not go unnoticed.