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An eager audience gathered on Friday evening at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church to hear James Knudson perform the First Cello Concerto of Camille Saint-Saens with the Los Alamos Symphony Orchestra.
There were, most likely, physicists from the LANL Neutron Scattering Center in the crowd who were stunned to find that their unassuming colleague can do some marvelous things with a cello.
His performance projected confidence and a thorough understanding of a difficult score.
The performance space at IHM is cramped. I wondered where in the world they would find space for Knudson so he could see the conductor and still be visible to the audience.
A raised platform in front of conductor Michael Gyurik solved the problem beautifully and allowed Knudson’s warm sound to flow out over the orchestra.
His first entrance sent a signal that this was going to be a solid performance, not always a sure thing with an amateur performer.
This concerto calls for mastery of the full range of the cello and Knudson demonstrated that he knows his way around the fingerboard, even in its most extreme upper register. He negotiated difficult parallel octave and double-stop passages with admirable skill and spot-on intonation.
The lyrical middle movement was lovely.
It is usual for concerto soloists to pace around backstage while the orchestra warms up the crowd with one or two opening numbers. But Knudson opted to lead the cello section, his usual LASO assignment, in the three other works on the program. That’s a lot of cello playing for one evening. Gyurik opened the program with a rousing reading of Giacchino Rossini’s overture to the opera “La Gazza Ladra” and followed with “The Steppes of Central Asia” by Alexander Borodin.
The Rossini is a wonderful bit of 19th Century Italian melodrama.
Gyurik and the orchestra displayed admirable control and dramatic flair in the famous “Rossini crescendo,” which culminated in a satisfying climactic entrance by the able LASO trombone section.
Following intermission (with Knudson at the center of an enthusiastic scrum), the orchestra gave a solid performance of Haydn’s familiar and always satisfying Symphony No. 104, the “London.”
Here, as elsewhere during the evening, the violin section performed with precision and confidence.
Their intonation and ensemble in many difficult and exposed passages were exceptional.
There was some lovely playing from the wind section throughout the evening.
And, in the Hayden, longtime LASO member Len Stovall provided one more opportunity for everyone in the audience to fantasize about playing the tympani. Community orchestras are wonderful things.
There are few group activities where men, women, high school students and senior citizens all contribute as equals to the creation of something beautiful. As demonstrated so powerfully by Knudson, music is for life. You don’t have to make a living as a musician to enjoy performing. I was pleased to see that LASO is launching a campaign to increase the size of its scholarship fund.
Contribute generously so that orchestras like LASO will survive and thrive into the next generation.