Symphony brings ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ home.
By Sue Langenberg

–The Rockford Symphony Orchestra presented “Pictures at an Exhibition” Saturday evening at the Coronado Theatre in its Classics Series.
–The familiar 19th century Modest Mussorgsky piece, “Pictures at an Exhibition,” orchestrated by Maurice Ravel, was highlighted on the program with two other composers John Adams and Paul Hindemith.
–Contemporary composer Adams created an opera, “Nixon in China,” from which “The Chairman Dances” was performed in the first act. While contemporary opera might be a rare bird in these days, Adams was successful in this enduring piece of pulsing rhythms, sometimes grand sometimes tiptoeing, plucking and engaging until the very last percussive effects that carefully wound down the magic.
–Composer Paul Hindemith, while otherwise unremarkable, sometimes needs a closer hearing to appreciate. His “Symphonic Metamorphoses on themes of Carl Maria von Weber” was colorful in different moods of Allegro, Scherzo, Andantino and Marsch.
–The second act was a prime example of how RSO music director Steve Larsen conducts above and beyond a score on the music stand to bring more than a passing experience to the audience.
–With a breathtaking and sometimes humorous artistic slide show overhead, the ten movements of ‘Pictures’ depicted the many moods and rhythms of Rockford, as if the composer had personally based his inspiration on the architecture, river rhythms and all that the Forest City has to offer. The images were related through the lens of area photographers, invited by Larsen to contribute.
–But as composer Mussorgsky intended, the original pieces were actually a tribute to a fallen architectural friend Victor Hartman, so expressed in the grandeur of visual Russian landmarks; or Rockfordian, most inspiring to a well-attended house.
–Moreover, any composer worth his own legacy provides a built in flexibility where the basic masterpiece gives to the next century and beyond the capability to present the composition in all styles. Thus, Mussorgsky in his ‘Pictures’ could yet thrive as a Third Age genius when an enterprising musical maestro like Larsen comes along.
–After all, Peter Tchaikovsky, perhaps unwittingly, created the same flexibility within familiar ballet, “The Nutcracker,” to provide a basic storyline that could take the two acts everywhere and still be the same masterpiece.
–Outstanding work on the program was provided by concertmaster Michelle Lekas and principals Andrew Williams, second violin; Benjamin Weber, viola; Michael Beert, cello; Alison Gaines, bass; Scott Metlicka, flute; Debra Freedland, oboe; Sunshine Simmons, clarinet; Karl Rzasa, bassoon; Gerik Fon-Revutzky, contrabassoon; Becky Asher, horn; Mark Baldin, trumpet; Rick Seybold, trombone and tuba; Michael Zielinski, bass trombone; Jon Mortensen, timpani; Tom Rogiewicz, percussion; Nanette Felix, harp and Patricia Lee, keyboard.
–A special applause was for RSO production manager Curt Johnsen whose marvelous work on the ‘Pictures’ video made the piece come to life.