IT WAS a dark, cold and stormy night. Yet people arrived early for the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra (TBSO)‘s first Classical + Concert at the Hilldale Lutheran Church.

Despite the weather, the modest auditorium was filled both upstairs and downstairs for this concert.

Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony is composed from themes and fragments of music written by Britten between the ages of nine and twelve. In his introductory remarks, Conductor Paul Haas wished Britten had given the work another title. It is anything but simple.

The piece is composed entirely for strings. Maestro Haas dug deep into the intricate layers of the composition, using careful tempi, clear stops and vigorous energy to bring out the full range of the composition. Our TBSO musicians responded with matching energy and splendid playing. Their combined efforts in this work was one hi-light of the evening.

Ferdinand David composed a Trombone Concertino in 1837 when it premiered to great success. I have never heard a concerto with the trombone as the featured instrument. The TBSO Principal Trombonist Erik Hongisto gave the work a flashy, brassy if somewhat uneven performance in this program. David’s Concertina weaves a complex, tricky construction for the full orchestra, allowing the solo trombone to rise out of brilliant crescendos as well as sliding into a haunting funereal march in the second movement.

Hongisto performed with full out passion for the piece, using his instrument to slide and glide, to soar and shiver as appropriate. He, conductor Haas and the orchestra received a warm, rolling ovation at the conclusion of the piece.

Mozart’s Symphony No.40 is one of his best known and frequently programmed symphonies. Yet here, in this concert, it was fresh and thoroughly engaging under Maestro Haas’s careful leadership. It begins in agitation and but for a brief pause in the Andante movement, never lets up with its complicated, stormy energy. All of the orchestra made this work rise to a superior level, in their performances.

But the true highlight of this program and my take-away musical memory was the original piece that opened the program. Written by the young Canadian composer Eugene Astapov, Ictus Solis (the title translates as sunstroke) is a sparkling concert opener. Astapov utilizes the full range of instrumentation in his orchestration, with a special focus on tingling and ringing percussion elements. It is a mere five minutes long but fully symphonic in its conception. New music is always one test for a symphony orchestra, and too often the experience, in performance, is less than successful.

Not here. Not this concert. Not this performance. Maestro Haas and the TBSO worked with great concentration and sensitivity to deliver Astoov’s layered composition with clarity and passion. They gave us five minutes of splendor. Bravo Astapov, Haas and our TBSO.

Michael Sobota reviews the symphony orchestra for The Chronicle-Journal.

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