Maggie Stock, Eagle Correspondent
BUTLER TWP — A concert themed “Nordic Winters” was certainly appropriate after the week of experiencing a polar vortex, but there were no sub-zero moments at the Butler County Symphony Orchestra concert Saturday evening at the Butler Intermediate High School.
Maestro Matthew Kraemer did, however, tell the audience before he began that he hoped he had little to do with the bitter weather by choosing Scandinavian composers.
Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s short piece Pan and Syrinx recounts the romantic pitfalls of the Greek myth. Beginning with a passage for cello and winds, the piece moves to an energetic full orchestra, at times highly percussive then suddenly tranquil. Nielsen weaves mysterious themes from the oboe and clarinet into more dissonant ones before concluding with the cello.
No one was disappointed in the piano proficiency of soloist Stephen Beus for Norwegian Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16. From the familiar opening measures to the fluid and passionate passages, Beus displayed his talents. A winner of several piano competitions including the Juilliard School Concerto competition, has performed world-wide with orchestras and as a solo artist and teaches at Brigham Young University.
Beus dazzled the audience throughout this three movement work with the cadenza in the first, his lyrical interpretation in the second and the fury of the third. Paired with rich orchestration, the musicians showcased the extremes of the work, much like the extremes of Norway itself. Shouts of “bravo” and a standing ovation were well-deserved.
The second half of the concert featured Finland’s Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43. The orchestra began on a shaky and tentative start, and, surprisingly, Kraemer stopped them, turned to the audience to explain that their rehearsal schedule had been interrupted because of the weather, and they would begin again. After this musical mulligan, the orchestra attacked the work with gusto, weaving the recognizable themes in the first movement to a powerful conclusion.
The pizzicato in the second movement added an element of intrigue and surprise. Although Sibelius never composed for the movies, this symphony (second of his seven) has several characteristics that could be fitting for a block-buster film score.
The drama, tension and “love theme” sections of this symphony were performed beautifully by the orchestra. The strings were especially strong throughout, as was the throbbing timpani.
By the rousing finale, the audience had long-forgotten the days of record setting wind-chills and left with an appreciation of the power of music of these Nordic composers.