Auditions to place musicians into the various IU Jacobs School orchestras and then reconstituting those ensembles into functioning bodies all happens very quickly at the beginning of each new school year and music season.
The current fall semester began barely two-and-a-half weeks ago. And on stage at the IU Auditorium on Wednesday evening was the newly formed Philharmonic, ready to play its inaugural concert after just six rehearsals. Let me happily report it played extremely well under the informed and zealous guidance of David Effron.
It’s really quite amazing, come to think of it, that these young musicians are able to accomplish so much so soon. But they’ve obviously got the talent. They’ve just as obviously got the desire. And a gifted, caring maestro was on hand to make sure they had the discipline and the guidance to prepare and perform what turned out to be an awfully good concert.
On this occasion, the site was different. Instead of having gathered on stage in the Musical Arts Center, the hundred or so musicians were at the Auditorium because featured on the program was Camille Saint-Saens’ Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, his “Organ Symphony.” And the Auditorium has something the MAC does not: an installed, genuine, fully throated organ.
That organ, most capably attended to by Matthew Middleton, joined the music midway into the symphony, just as composer Saint-Saens requested. At that point, and for quite a spell, participation was spasmodic and restrained. But as the music reached the work’s final sections, the Maestoso and Allegro, organ subtlety erupted into organ might. And when organ might mixed with a, likewise, orchestral might, the results were stunning. Somehow, miraculously, organist Middleton, conductor Effron, and the troops kept matters balanced, even as they released splendors of sound that, in enlarged scope, sumptuously restated and capped themes Saint-Saens had developed in the symphony’s earlier moments. The extended climax left a tremendous impact, causing the audience to respond with vigorous and prolonged applause.
Conductor Effron opened the concert with Hector Berlioz’ oft-performed “Le Corsair” Overture, an exuberant exercise in which the Philharmonic’s strings and brasses particularly had opportunities to show off their sectional solidarity.
Between the overture and the symphony, the maestro placed Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait,” a 1942 inspiration designed to buttress spirit as the nation struggled through the difficult early phases of World War II. Much of this unusual piece of Americana is instrumental. Copland’s score effectively suggests the environment of mid-19th century middle-America, in which Lincoln was born and raised, along with the troubled years during which he later served.
For the final minutes of this quarter-hour musical paean, Copland called upon Lincoln’s own words, taken from speeches and letters, to supplement the orchestral story-telling. Wednesday’s narrator was Gwyn Richards, dean of the Jacobs School. He handled the assignment smoothly and with appropriate dignity. For its part, so did the Philharmonic, thanks to a conductor who seemed to sense so acutely the spirit of Copland’s patriotic intent.