Reviewer: Connor Rousseau
Venue: The Temple Theatre
The Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra may have performed their last concert of the 2022-2023 season on April 1, but don’t be fooled. The orchestra delivered a fantastic finale to their season by marshaling the unique talents of their instrumentalists. The music featured was written by composer Jessie Montgomery, a contemporary composer, as well as Gabriel Faure, Serge Prokofiev, and Carl Maria von Weber. But the man whose immortal music got this concert its name, Ludwig van Beethoven, took the spotlight during the concert with his renowned Symphony No. 5 in C minor, op. 67. All four movements took over 30 minutes to perform, and my ears got to travel in time back to Beethoven’s era when he first put this music to paper and into the ears of eager audiences. For a man whose hearing dwindled throughout the years, his musical prowess is like that of no other man, woman, or child of past or present.
Conductor Fouad Fakhouri highlighted the importance of Beethoven’s work not only in the first four notes that we all have come to know so well, but the “totality” of the entire score. Fakhouri spoke of an arch that extends from the beginning to the end of Beethoven’s 5th, an arch which allows audiences to experience the full rapture that exists in this symphony. Such an arch can be enjoyed to those who have the patience for it, and while recognizing a famous piece of music is nice, understanding and appreciating its whole value is something completely different. Few composers can compete with Beethoven’s felicity of expression through the language of music, and his 5th symphony brought this 2022-2023 season to a fitting close.
Fakhouri also emphasized the talent of his orchestra, taking time to acknowledge how much skill the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra possesses for a community of its size. I must agree with this point, as I grew up surrounded by musicians of great talent and skill in the heart of the city of Saginaw and Saginaw Township. It’s not only the talent itself, but the number of people in this community that possesses such a talent that outstands me.
When it comes to the performance as a whole, challenging pieces were selected for this concert. It clearly took lots of rehearsals and hours of practice to master these works, especially Starburst by Montgomery. Such a piece highlights string instruments, which serve as the vanguard throughout, and a fast pulse was maintained throughout. Keeping all the violins and violas together was achieved through serious focus and attention to the smallest of rhythmic details. A simple error would have been easily detected; it would have stood out like a sore thumb, but such mistakes were nearly impossible to detect.
Much of the success of this symphony was due in part to the strong relationship between the band and orchestral instruments. Stringed instruments abounded the stage, so I had trouble even viewing the trumpets, trombones, flutes, and trombones among other instruments. But their ability to carry a powerful sound was undeniable. While the entire symphony only had two clarinets, those woodwinds carried key themes and their sound reached my ears not in competition with other instruments, but with an ideal blend and balance with the rest of the musicians.
I also cannot forget the talent of bassoonist MaryBeth Minnis, who was featured in Weber’s Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra in F, op. 75. The intense speed of the piece was met with the talent and vigor of Minnis, who maintained her pace and articulation from beginning to end. Tremendous dexterity was required for her to get all the notes out, and many of them weren’t even slurred, but staccato, so her embouchure and breathing techniques and control were top tier.
Altogether, the works of Beethoven, Montgomery, Faure, Prokofied, and Weber gave the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra a challenging final show of the season, but they met that challenge and demonstrated once more their musical mastery.