September 26, 2019
ASO delights downtown in first “Around the A” concert

The days grow short when you reach September, and evening shadows fall sooner downtown where tall buildings intervened with remaining western sunlight, shading the Southern Company Amphitheater where the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performed an outdoor concert on Wednesday evening. the event marked the debut of the orchestra’s “Around the A” outreach series.

The Amphitheater is located on the south end of Centennial Olympic Park at the feet of the CNN Center and the Omni Hotel, a nine minute walk from MARTA’s Peachtree Center Transit Station and only six minute walk from the more verbosely named Dome/GWCC/Philips Arena/CNN Center Transit Station. There is parking in the area within the same general distance, but for this event, public transit seemed the better option — less complex and traumatic.

The all-classical program began at 7pm, led by ASO associate conductor Stephen Mulligan, with soprano Jennifer Cherest as guest soloist, opening with two orchestral works: Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances.

Outdoor concerts always pose challenges. Necessary amplification is for best benefit of the more distant audience rather than the musicians on stage, who are essentially behind the body of amplified sound. But sitting close to the stage made it evident that the ensemble was pleasingly tight on Wednesday night.

The strings are typically the most challenged in an outdoor venue, but the light scurrying of the strings in the opening of the Mendelssohn, and in subsequent similar passages, was gossamer but had a surprisingly clear presence. The rustic rhythms of the Bartok were in good sync and heartily robust without being overdone — an excellent choice of repertoire for the situation.

Next, Cherest joined Mulligan and the ASO for three operatic numbers: “Caroi nome” from Verdi’s Rigoletto, “deh Vieni, non tardar” from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, and “Una voce poco fa” from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. Cherest has a lovely, fluid and flexible that made the these three selections glow. Mulligan is a fine collaborative conductor who demonstrated once again that he can follow a soloist easily without merely accompanying. That’s a huge asset with Italian operatic repertoire especially.

Daylight had completely gone and the temperate quite comfortable by the start of the closing work, Haydn’s Symphony No. 104. Putting the Haydn last on the program, as opposed to first, as would typically happen in a subscription concert, worked very well. The entire concert was attractively programmed. It was absent the bombast usually afforded outdoor concerts, but for that very reason, upon reflection, it actually suited the occasion well.

At 6pm, as a prelude to the orchestra’s performance, two advanced student musicians from the ASO’s educational programs performed for early-arrivers. Violinist Toby Liu, a 10th grade member of the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra performed the first movement of Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto in G minor. He was followed by violinist Zoe Willingham, a high school senior in her final season of both the ASYO and the Talent Development Program, who played the first movement of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor. Each was accompanied by Sharon Berenson at the keyboard.

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