Symphony soothes the soul.
By Sue Langenberg

The Rockford Symphony Orchestra presented its fifth concert in the ComEd Classics Series Saturday evening at the Coronado Performing Arts Center. The program featured three composers in a theme of “Baroque & Beyond,” conducted by musical director Steven Larsen.
This RSO season also happens to begin Larsen’s 20th year as highly accomplished musical leader and conductor winning awards and accolades for the entire state. His mighty presence and charismatic focus finds a special place at the ornately refurbished Coronado Theatre so that being a part of the audience is indeed a special experience to behold.
Not one to simply find some ordinary orchestral works and wave a baton around (though he admits not using a baton these days), Larsen delves deeper into his musical research to find selections that are more off the beaten path and perhaps on the atypical side including some works that he may have to explain away.
What he discovered about 18th century Antonio Vivaldi’s “Concerto for Violin, Two Oboes, Two Horns, Strings and Continuo RV 562” was that the work was the most obscure and undocumented of all. Undaunted by the minor inconvenience of having difficulty in actually procuring the music, he pressed forward and discovered that the there was a heavy demand upon the first violinist, RSO’s concertmaster Michelle Lekas perhaps placing her “higher on the marquee,” he commented.
Virtuoso Lekas was most proficiently up to the task, however, in her accomplished presentation that included lengthy solo passages especially in the Allegro movement where her fingers flew with precision and aggression. She soared in the rather mournful Grave movement where the oboes, horns, strings and continuo instruments interplayed in a dialogue of contrasting dynamics.
Fast forwarding to the 20th century, the next composer was Claude Bolling (born 1930) in “Suite for Jazz Trio and Chamber Orchestra.” Larsen further explained that Vivaldi would have most appreciated and recognized the similarity between the Baroque era and a contemporary jazz piece. French composer Bolling found himself in good company from his early piano talent with Lionel Hampton and later with flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal (famous for his line, “I play the best when I forget the instrument is there.”).
Guest artists Joel Ross (piano), Karl Seigfried (bass) and Jack Brands (drums) interplayed their infectious and jamming rhythms against the backdrop of orchestral melody in much the same dialogue style as Vivaldi’s earlier piece.
Pianist Ross is Rockford’s own master educator as well as accomplished musician. Kantorei, The Singing Boys of Rockford under his direction draws young men from the area into a life-building experience through choral work. Ross further comments that this particular Bolling piece parallels the Baroque style about size of instrumentation and a lack of trumpets, trombones, and saxophones. The freedom from structure found its way through the downstage trio with wandering piano plunkings anchored by bass and drums. Accomplished bass player Seigfried plunked his way from Chicago area chamber and music projects including Chicago Jazz Education project. Tall drink-of-water Brand brought his special element of drum rhythms to stage and is also a Rockford musical force.
The trio performed a special encore jam following the suite to bobbing heads and tapping feet all over the house. It was a fitting conclusion to the first act.
Second act brought back the Baroque era with Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K.550, a most pleasant conclusion to a special evening.