LSO to present heroic performance

Paul Feyertag

The Lawrence Symphony Orchestra has been usually keen about presenting diverse and exciting programs comprised of both contemporary works and standard repertoire. Thankfully, their recent concert in Memorial Chapel Saturday night was no exception. It was exceptional, however, in its sheer muscle and ambition, both of which are qualities well suited to Prof. David Becker’s energetic and demanding conducting.
The first piece on the program, “Javelin” by Michael Torke, was programmed as part of a larger effort by Prof. Becker to feature works by Wisconsin-born composers. The Atlanta Olympic Committee commissioned “Javelin” from Torke in celebration of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s 50th anniversary, and Torke musically harnessed the “Olympic spirit” by using the act of a javelin being thrown as inspiration for the work, which is appropriately bombastic in volume and heroic in tone.
Saint-Sa‰ns wrote his Third Symphony in 1886, and – following what was fashionable at the time – it’s really, really big. Not only is it mammoth in duration, but the amazing sound masses that Saint-Sa‰ns conjures from the addition of organ to an already large symphony simply must be experienced. For this work, the LSO was joined by university organist Kathrine Handford.
Rounding out the program was Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor. This concerto was originally written for pianist Nikolai Rubenstein in the winter of 1874-1875. Upon playing through the work, Rubenstein berated Tchaikovsky, calling the work “banal, clumsy and incompetently written.” Luckily, Rubenstein was wrong, and today it is one of Tchaikovsky’s most celebrated works. Piano professor Dmitri Novgorodsky joined the LSO as the soloist, making for a dynamite performance.
Before joining the Lawrence faculty in September, Dr. Becker was director of orchestras and professor of the graduate orchestral conducting program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While in that post, he and the UW Symphony Orchestra received critical acclaim for two international tours of Spain and central Europe. Saturday’s concert was his first appearance as conductor of the LSO.