Rebecca Miller, Conductor Rebecca Miller, Conductor Rebecca Miller, Conductor Rebecca Miller, Conductor Rebecca Miller, Conductor Rebecca Miller, Conductor Rebecca Miller, Conductor Rebecca Miller, Conductor Rebecca Miller, Conductor
Rebecca Miller, Conductor
Substitute conductor leads Huntsville Symphony Orchestra to colorful success
HUNTSVILLE, AL - Evidence of autumn’s arrival was abundant at Saturday night’s performance of the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra. Crisp winds and fiery colors were on display both inside and outside the Von Braun Center Concert Hall for the second concert of the HSO Classical Series. Led by Rebecca Miller, a substitute guest conductor who bravely stepped in this week for an ailing de la Parra, the HSO presented a solid performance for an enthusiastic audience.

Maestra Miller’s conducting was as refreshingly crisp as the autumn air, exceedingly energetic, and confidently capable. This was nowhere more noticeable nor important than in the program’s pinnacle presentation of Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite.” An orchestral suite from the ballet by the same name, Stravinsky’s “Firebird” was the first of three important ballets which would revolutionize rhythmic structure in music and bring Stravinsky and his music into international fame.

Ms. Miller and the entire orchestra were impressively engaged in the distinctively difficult score, making full use of the orchestra’s rhythmic, dynamic, and technical abilities. The “Firebird” concluded with the beautiful, albeit impatient, Berceuse (lullaby) before erupting into the feverish and famous finale. Even more impressive than the proficient performance, the “Firebird” was a last minute program change at Miller’s request, the musicians having to apprehend its formidable construction swiftly and daringly.

The magical “Firebird” was withheld from the audience until the end of the program, uncharacteristically preceded by a Dvorak symphony, an intermission, and a cello concerto. Abandoning traditional concert format, Ms. Miller opted for a musical pineapple upside-down cake in offering one of the most popular symphonies in the repertoire right at the top of the program.

Nonetheless, Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 9: From the New World” was solid, despite the hesitant opening bars. It featured excellent timpani and horn playing throughout, a graceful first movement, bubbly third movement, and a remarkable second movement English Horn solo by Diana Dunn worthy of mention as one of the most spectacular solo moments of the season. The fourth movement had moments of curious unrefinement but finished fiercely to an immediate and lengthy ovation from a contented audience.

Nestled safely between the stalwart installments of the Dvorak and Stravinsky, was Tchaikovsky’s “Rococo Variations” with cello soloist Jesus Castro-Balbi. Mr. Castro-Balbi’s playing was beautiful, yet inconsistent, packaging sweet, lyrical moments and wiry, off-pitch technical passages into one flat performance.

The Tchaikovsky wasn’t the only theme and variations on Saturday night. Autumn’s changing leaves was but one of several changes in store for the HSO this week. From a potentially catastrophic conductor change to a repertoire re-do and a last-second program prance, the HSO emerged as cool and colorful as October itself.

Dave Ragsdale is an Asst. Professor of Music at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Instrumental Conducting from the University of Miami.

Jon Busdeker, Huntsville Times
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