Review: ASO finale lauds age, unveils youth

The Altoona Symphony Orchestra gave the final performance of its 85th season at the Mishler Theatre on Saturday night.

It was 63-year-member Barbara Weller Crain’s final concert, for which ASO executive director Pamela Etters and conductor Teresa Cheung gave some words of genuine gratitude.

The focus then turned from age to youth, as they welcomed the featured soloist – pianist and Altoona native Anthony Cornet. While many in attendance had some idea of the 24-year-old’s talent, his subsequent performance of Rachmaninoff’s “Second Piano Concerto” exceeded all expectations and brought down the house.

This concerto features less “give and take” than the classical style with the soloist playing nearly throughout the entire piece, which, when coupled with the relentless virtuosity of the part, made Mr. Cornet’s achievement one that should become local legend. From the roller-coaster arpeggios to the handfuls of chords, Cornet seemed to be in complete control of every moment of the work. Of course, he memorized the piece, as he never had a free moment to turn pages.

After the standing ovation, he presented two solo encore pieces, the first being a ferocious Allegro by Ginastera, in which he displayed another set of impressive techniques.

Perhaps the most stunning part of the evening happened next, for when the lights came on, the audience absolutely burst in hundreds of little conversations about what they had just seen and heard – a joyous kind of energy not typical of an intermission break. It seemed to be, understandably, an outpouring of pride in our community that such a talent has emerged.

Upon returning to the stage, Cheung unveiled the music she had decided to perform for next season’s concerts. While there were many interested selections including Resphighi’s “Pines of Rome,” one brought about a collective gasp – Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony.” This means we will hear an expanded orchestra with large choir and four vocal soloists give about 90 minutes of some of the most glorious music ever composed.

The final piece was Dvorak’s “Eighth Symphony,” which is particularly tuneful even by his standards. It is the first flute solo, delivered beautifully by Dianne Gould Toulson, for which it got its subtitle: the “Pastoral.”

Maestra Cheung commanded the warm late-Romantic era textures for what seemed like 90 percent of the work, yet I found the final section, with its (seldom-used) French horn trills resembling a charging herd, to be the most memorable of this work.

Timothy Melbinger teaches music at Penn?State Altoona and piano lessons from his home with Hollidaysburg.