BPO brings home the gold

Reviewed by Lee Shepherd

In the spirit of the upcoming London Olympics, the Binghamton Philharmonic flexed its muscles this season and, on Saturday night, it brought home the gold. Everyone in the Southern Tier’s music-going public is richer for the talent of the orchestra members and the outstanding soloists they’ve brought to the area.
Young Japanese violinist Mayuko Kamio gave a tour de force performance of Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63. The piece was commissioned by French violinist Robert Soetans, who had sole rights to perform it for one year. The work, which is fiendishly difficult, was played with great verve by Kamio. Like those diminutive Olga Korbut-sized gymnasts, Kamio surprised everyone with her strength and athleticism.
Kamio shared the limelight with many excellent subsidiary soloists in the orchestra. The concerto features a surprise ending and a flurry of castinets heralding the return of the theme – paying homage to the Spanish debut the work would receive. The “Andante,” with Kamio soaring two octaves above the clarinets and pizzicato-playing strings, was especially beautiful.
The opening piece, Alegria (Joy or Happiness) by Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra, was a riot of Latin rhythms and color. With its complex syncopations, you couldn’t exactly tap your feet to it, but you couldn’t stop your body from dancing in your seat either.
Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra was the perfect vehicle for showcasing every one of the BPO’s fine musicians. The mournful bassoons, the yearning cellos, the celestial harp, the fanfare-playing trumpets, the lush violins — Britten gave each instrument a chance to shine. During a standing ovation, Maestro Jose-Luis Novo acknowledged each section in turn, giving credit to the extremely hard-working and talented orchestra members. Hats off in particular to the percussion players. Racing from instrument to instrument throughout the concert, they adding visual humor and auditory delight.
One more treat for the audience capped off the program – Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, a magical good-versus-evil story based on Russian folk tunes and choreographed for the ballet by Diaghilev. It’s a workout for the orchestra, but apparently as much fun to play, as it was to hear.
As Novo aptly put it, no one needs to travel anywhere else to hear the best classical music performance. The BPO, throughout the season, and especially at this final concert of the 2011-12 Classical Series, was in top form. I can’t wait to see what in store for us next season.

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