by Rex Benjamin Rund
Courtesy of The Republic
“Celebrating America” was the theme of Saturday’s Columbus Indiana Philharmonic concert, and a grand celebration it was.
Not every conductor and orchestra can play with equal facility Broadway tunes and grand masterworks of the symphonic repertoire, but maestro David Bowden and the philharmonic can. And they did.
I knew I was in for a treat with the very first brilliant chords of John Williams’ “Liberty Fanfare.” Indeed, even before the downbeat, I knew. One of the many things to admire about the artistry of Bowden is his aggressive approach to a first note. The introductory applause had barely settled when he lept to the podium and the orchestra attacked the opening fanfare. The effect was exhilarating. The orchestra’s tone was eminently rich and warm right from the start. It was a marvelous way to begin a concert, a feast of a piece that packed plenty of punch into a compact package.
Then Columbus native Kate Hamilton swept onto the stage with ebullience and confidence. The programming was again right on the mark: “Another Op’nin’ Another Show” and “So In Love,” by Hoosier native Cole Porter. Hamilton looked and sounded as if she was having the time of her life and felt right at home — and why not? She knew what she wanted to do with each moment of each piece and pulled it off beautifully.
Next were two Irving Berlin tunes, including a hopping arrangement, with sparkling piano and drum kit work, of “Blue Skies,” which was just pure fun.
But it just kept getting better, with an orchestral medley from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story.” The facility and passion with which the orchestra played this medley were spellbinding. Some of the best moments: “Maria,” with the muted violins (a marvelous effect) on the melody, the muted brass on “Something’s Coming,” and the second verse of “One Hand, One Heart,” with the violins and violas as rich and delicious as molten caramel.
Hamilton returned to the stage for the sublime “Shenendoah” and the rollicking “A Wing and a Prayer.” Of special mention here are the outstanding arrangements of Dan Powers, who displays a great feel for texture, color and sensitivity. The concert’s first half then concluded with the inimitable “God Bless America,” followed by a well-merited standing ovation for Hamilton.
The second half of the concert, Antonin Dvorak’s magnificent Ninth Symphony, was every bit as good. The Czech composer came to New York in 1892, and within months he had penned this symphony, subtitled “From the New World.”
I couldn’t help but reflect on the irony of our international world. I recently traveled to Prague, where I heard a splendid Czech orchestra play an Italian opera about an American in Japan (“Madame Butterfly”), and returned home to Indiana just in time to hear an Indiana orchestra play a Czech composer’s work that put American music on the world map.
Always a teacher, Bowden helped guide the audience through some of Dvorak’s motifs and techniques before beginning. I’m so very grateful when he does this. It helps unveil the mystery for first-time concertgoers and seasoned listeners alike.
The sumptuous tone and clarity of the philharmonic’s sound is well suited to Dvorak’s music. There were too many highlights to recount them all.
The orchestra under Bowden’s baton was alternately fiery, silky smooth, crystal clear, passionate and superbly supple throughout the entire symphony. The orchestra sped effortlessly through the fiendishly complex rhythms of the third movement with the surefooted confidence and grace of a greyhound at full tilt. The magnificent fourth movement roused the audience to another standing ovation.
Clearly the Columbus Philharmonic under Bowden is a gem of Indiana culture. His imaginative programming and impeccable pacing are brilliant. Even more, the maestro’s attention to detail, remarkable palette of conducting gesture, and above all his great joy and passion in making music are all reflected in the response he gets from this orchestra. It was a great pleasure to see and hear an orchestra, soloist and conductor so totally engaged with one another and in this magnificent music.
Rex Benjamin Rund is director of music and liturgy at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Carmel.