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Violinist Rachel Barton Pine played Brahms for the FSO season opener of Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra. Courtesy Photo.

Two revered names in classical music’s heritage, Johannes Brahms and Ludwig van Beethoven, were honored in a memorable program Friday evening as the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra opened its 66th season at NAU’s Ardrey Auditorium.

Accompanied by a superb guest artist, violinist Rachel Barton Pine, FSO Artistic Director and Conductor Elizabeth Schulze led a performance that will be remembered as one of the finest in the long history of this venerable musical organization and community treasure.

Characteristic of Schulze’s innovative programming, only two works were featured on Friday’s program, each a major opus representing two of the 19th century’s musical giants. First, the single concerto for violin and orchestra by Brahms was given a flawless and powerful reading by Pine. This artist has earned a fine international reputation as an interpreter of the classical repertoire, a practitioner of scholarly historic research and educational outreach, and for her gift of powerful communication with audiences for whom she performs. The technically challenging Brahms concerto offered much opportunity for demonstration of brilliant technique, bravura projection of sound, and the “passion and conviction” noted in her biography.

Throughout her thrilling performance, the amazing sonic qualities of the 1742 Guarnerius instrument of which Rachel Barton Pine is the current custodian was afforded ample demonstration. The instrument’s warm tone and ability to soar above the symphonic proportions of Brahms’ accompanying orchestral forces offered a unique aural experience.

The violinist has written and published her own cadenzas for many of the works in her repertoire, and the lengthy and brilliant first movement cadenza again gave opportunity to hear the Guarneri instrument in all its glory.

Following intermission, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony was given an equally spirited reading by Maestra Schulze and the orchestra. This reviewer has heard the FSO in performance over a period of nearly 40 years. This performance of the Beethoven symphony can clearly be counted as a highlight in the long history of the FSO.

It would appear that in this 66th season, Elizabeth Schulze has assembled players with a level of proficiency and skill that bodes well as we look forward to the remainder of another musically diverse season of music making. In terms of sectional balance, dynamic shading, and clean execution of the rhythmically dynamic and structurally challenging features of the Beethoven work, this was indeed one of the finer and more satisfying performances heard in some time, and the conductor and players are to be congratulated for a job well done.

A word of thanks is also due the conductor for a seamless uniting of the four movements of the structurally integrated Beethoven piece, thus avoiding the impulsive bursts of applause that too often interrupt the flow and organic nature of multi-movement musical works.

The FSO continues its current season October 30 with a tribute to the world of Disney and the substantial body of film scores coming from that genre of musical creativity and expression.

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