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October 4, 2008, 7:30 pm → Great Hall, GBPAC, Cedar Falls

Bernstein – Overture, Candide
Mozart – Piano Concerto no. 23 with Simone Dinnerstein
Mahler – Adagietto, Symphony no. 5
Bernstein – Symphonic Dances, West Side Story

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WCFSO kicks off season with a bang
by George F. Day
Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier
October 19, 2008

The opening concert of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony Orchestra’s 2008-09 season took place Saturday night in the Great Hall of the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center, a dynamite concert with music director Jason Weinberger conducting and pianist Simone Dinnerstein guest artist.

This program was sensational. It was framed by two works by Leonard Bernstein, the Overture to the operetta Candide and his Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. Bernstein was born 90 years ago and these two works were the orchestra’s way of honoring a great American creative genius. The overture, possibly the composer’s most popular work, is explosive. It is swift, sparkling, mostly loud but with a sweet rhythmic melody at its center. It was played by the WCFSO with a spirit of friendly defiance that seemed to shout ‘We’re back and raring to go!’

The other Bernstein, the grand finale of the program, was his Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. One easily recognizes the various songs and dance sequences from the musical (and the movie), but it actually works well as a symphonic piece with the composer’s amazing talent for unique, broad and vigorous instrumentation. Weinberger is always a joy to watch as he works on the podium, but was he ever in better form as he led the ensemble in the vigorous Symphonic Dances? Not a whit distracting, his movements on the podium were an ideal complement to the music. Communication between Weinberger and his players was also remarkable. Their refusal to take a bow at the end of this concert and their insistence on applauding their leader was extraordinary.

Sandwiched in between the Bernstein pieces came two works from other centuries. We heard a splendid performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 23 with Dinnerstein at the keyboard. This concerto, with its much smaller orchestra and no trumpets or timpani, is one of the composer’s greatest [and apparently one of his favorites]. It includes some darkness, though the somber element is brightened by the final presto movement which joyfully skips along sounding almost child-like in its simplicity. Dinnerstein played with quiet authority. She showed great strength in the second rather solemn movement, and thrilled the audience with her delicate touch in the final movement. She and the orchestra worked in perfect harmony, evoking an atmosphere of charming conversation between good friends in an elegant drawing room.

In contrast to the distinctively classical piano concerto, the WCFSO played a single movement from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony no. 5. This is one of those majestic works that defies description. It is pure beauty created out of some quite unconventional harmonies. No amount of speculating as to its ‘meaning’ can explain or duplicate this musical experience. The movement, marked ‘very slowly’ for strings and harp only, is a brief, haunting meditation, it seems to me, on the sadness that inevitably pervades the sweetness of life itself. A thoughtful, emotional jewel, it was sensitively played under the equally sensitive guidance of Maestro Weinberger. This was a program of seemingly disparate works so brilliantly performed that at the end the audience roared its approval in a lengthy ovation.

Note: All reviews are edited for length and spelling.