Friday, March 15, 2013

Classics 7: Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3 (Organ Symphony)

Dror Biran, pianist.

The Louisville Orchestra
Jorge Mester, conductor

Dror Biran, piano

Reviewed by Scott Dowd

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Scott Dowd. All rights reserved.

I have an acquaintance who used to investigate train accidents for CSX. He kept a packed suitcase next to the front door; he was prepared to leave at a moment's notice. Here are other professions that, by their nature, require constant alert status: doctors, Batman, firefighters, concert pianists…that’s right. Concert pianists. If you doubt me, just ask UofL assistant professor of music Dror Biram. On Wednesday, Biram was enjoying a restful day off when he received an emergency call from the commissioner…er…music director of the Louisville Orchestra, Jorge Mester. It seems scheduled soloist Chu-Fang Huang was unable to get to Louisville in time for the concert and the maestro was in a pickle. Mester explained to Thursday morning’s Treyton Oak Towers Coffee Classics audience, “I just asked, ‘What have you got ready?’” The answer – it turns out – was Tchaikovsky’s first Piano Concerto. It is easy to see why Biram is drawn to this work that requires a master technician capable of maneuvering the abrupt changes of mood, tempo and volume. Biram filled Whitney Hall with screaming fortissimos, slammed on the breaks effortlessly dropped into contemplation. With little time for rehearsal, the equally amazing musicians of the orchestra led by the maestro were able to give Biram his head and offered up a triumphant interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s work. The audience was with them throughout, cheering between movements and calling back the soloist and conductor three times with an honest, joyful standing ovation at the conclusion.

The concert began with Resphigi’s Rossiniana, a salute to the great operatic composer by his younger countryman, using themes from his collection of piano pieces, titled Sins of my Old Age. It is beautiful work that includes a lovely bit that lifted up principal clarinetist Andrea Levine. Grace Baugh-Bennett on the celesta added the touch of magic that gives this piece a special place in the canon.

Following intermission, the orchestra returned for the eponymous work of the program, Saint-Saëns’s Symphony No. 3, Op. 78 in the C minor – the “Organ” symphony. Saint-Saëns was a keyboard virtuoso, conductor and author. His persona was multi-dimensional, and that is the genius of the “Organ” symphony. The addition of the organ as a unit of the orchestra is unusual enough. But the composer goes further and inserts a counterpoint by adding a piano to the percussion section. The addition of the organ adds dimension to the ensemble – in a venue built to include an instrument; the pipes and chambers of the organ provide polyphony, surrounding the audience and orchestra while remaining embedded within the ensemble. Whitney Hall, unfortunately, is not such a venue. The Louisville Orchestra did, however, bring in one of Louisville’s most talented organists, Timothy L. Baker, for this performance. The dialogue between Baker and Baugh-Bennett was charming and I was glad for the opportunity to hear this majestic work live once again. 

The Louisville Orchestra with guest soloist Dror Biran will reprise their performance Friday evening, March 15, at 8 p.m. in Whitney Hall of The Kentucky Center. Tickets are available at or by calling 502.584.7777, 800.775.7777.

Louisville Orchestra
The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
Whitney Hall
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202

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