Review: ASO delivers big performance at Mishler

Teresa Cheung and the Altoona Symphony Orchestra presented a concert of Roman-themed music on Saturday night at the Mishler Theatre.

In both numbers of musicians onstage and the scope of the music, it was the biggest program of their season. The finale called for the special effect of off-stage trumpets, which was fortunate, as they could not have fit comfortably on stage this evening.

The big piece of the first half was “Suite No. 2 from Spartacus” by Aram Khacha­turian, one of the few Soviet composers whose music was internationally embraced. The suite was derived from a ballet, and the interaction of the orchestra made it clear which sections were from vivacious ensemble dances and which were from pas de deux. Lyric solos from clarinetist Smith Toulson and violinist Urara Mogi during the tender moments were particularly memorable.

In her annual community musical outreach, Cheung introduced Scott Sheehan and his Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School brass ensemble to begin the second half with selections from Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The young musicians made a confident and resonant sound, and then a subset remained on stage to join the orchestra for the finale, Ottorino Respighi’s “Roman Festivals.”

This was designed to be a showpiece for orchestra, and Cheung gave a robust rendition, much to the delight of the audience. I cannot possibly list all of the dazzling things that occurred, but some things were unforgettable. It was a treat to hear longtime ASO member Stephanie Everett put down her violin and play mandolin during a quieter movement.

The greatly expanded percussion section contributed a lot of color and articulation, but in the end, the brass section stole the show with a combination of power and personality. Trumpetist Kevin Eisensmith, trombonist Bruce Tychinski and horn player Heidi Lucas all interjected vigorous solos amidst hearty parts for the whole section.

Timothy Melbinger teaches at Penn State Altoona.