Cuthbert Ampitheatre, Eugene Symphony in the Park, July 17, 2010
The geese stole the show, but the orchestra played on.
Partway through the opening piece, Rossini's Barber of Seville "Overture", 5 geese flew out from behind the copper arch of the Cuthbert Ampitheatre. They seemed deliberate, part of the show, and the audience laughed as the geese soared, then turned and flew over the crowd. Suddenly, a goose faltered in its flight; the rest of the flock turned with it, circling back behind the stage, over the river. The geese disappeared to spontaneous applause.
Near the end of the overture, the geese returned. More sure-winged on this second glide, they blasted out from behind the stage, flying up, away, and out of sight from all of us at the Cuthbert. As the Rossini faded, the geese lifted the crowd's giddy mood higher. We laughed and applauded both orchestra and bird show, and knew that we were in for an amazing night.
Soprano and senior solos
From the moment gates opened at 6:30 p.m. for the 8 p.m. concert, throngs poured into the Cuthbert Ampitheatre for the Eugene Symphony's second free "Symphony in the Park" concert. Carrying blankets, stadium chairs and picnic dinners, we relaxed in the evening sun, listening to the Eugene Symphonic Band's pre-concert performance, conducted by Dr. Burnette Dillon. By showtime, a crowd of 4,000 had packed the seats and grassy slopes surrounding the stage.
The Eugene Symphony played their first free Cuthbert concert in 2009. Well-received by the public, as summer 2010 got closer and closer excitement was all over Eugene: "Is the Symphony playing Cuthbert again?" Sure enough. Returning this year with well-known and much-loved music, from lyrics to cannons, Indiana Jones to the Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5, conductor Danail Rachev and his orchestra held the audience in thrall for 2 hours.
In addition to orchestral pieces, mezzo-soprano Angela Niederloh wowed the audience with both her voice and a range of musical subjects. Not limiting herself to operatic works such as Rossini's “Un Voce Poca Fa” (also from Barber of Seville) and Bizet's saucy “Habanera” from Carmen, Niederloh also got bluesy and funny. She brought longing and tenderness to the classic song “Speak Low”, from Weill's One Touch Venus. In the funniest piece of the evening, Niederloh mixed some New-Yorkah attitude with her mezzo tones on the hilarious “Ooh! My Feet” from Loesser's The Most Happy Fella.
One crowd-pleaser of a surprise was violin soloist Emily Sokoloff 's spectacular performance on the Saint-Saëns’ violin showpiece, Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. A senior at South Eugene High School, the 17-year-old Sokoloff already has racked up acclaim and awards for her rich musicality and strong technique. If Sokoloff did not pull out all the stops for this night's performance, then I am unsure which were left unpulled. Even with a microphone on her violin — a nerve-wracker that can easily amplify mistakes and a player's doubt — Sokoloff awed the audience with her clear, flowing tone, precise bow and ear for detail. No sooner had the piece ended but the audience was on their feet, touched and blown away by the passion and skill of the young violinist.
Only in the park
My wife and I love the Eugene Symphony and their Hult Center concerts. However, there are some things you just won't find at a concert hall, that you will find on a July evening in an outdoor ampitheatre.
It's not so much anything different about the Eugene Symphony itself (well, other than them donning white jackets instead of the usual concert black). It's the audience. The park setting allowed not just for the appreciation of music, it also gave people the chance to relax. Sometimes I wish that more classical music could be enjoyed this way. It revives and freshens the form, reminds the audience that this music is not just for big concert halls, but for the world around us, for the day to day. In each piece there is a message, a pulse, that we can make part of us, that can make us feel even more alive.
On this night at the Cuthbert, children danced in the aisles. One wee girl in particular spent the entire concert dancing, twirling, climbing and jumping off a low wall, taking a bow — and then starting all over again.
This is classical music, and the life it breathes into us.
Back to the cannon
Last year's park concert ended not on a note, but a cannon blast. Rachev delighted in telling the crowd this year's concert would also end with the beloved Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture.
At the first of many booms, the audience jumped and giggled, especially the children. As the orchestra moved towards the finale, the cool dark of a Eugene summer night settled around us. The black shadows of the green trees encircled us in safety; the river flowed by, quiet in its own ever-flowing melody. A mild breeze sent some to jackets, or to the arms of their partner.
A night of music, summer, and each other — such was this night, where the orchestra played, the cannon boomed, and voices as well as souls soared high.
At no point were any geese harmed — but the geese stole the show, and the music stole our hearts.