Hoopes Lights Up Saroyan Theatre

October 28, 2012

Violinist Chad Hoopes set aside his British Literature and Physics homework for a few hours this weekend as he brought his Stradivarius and his youthful musical vision to the William Saroyan Theatre to play with the Fresno Philharmonic. This was high school senior Hoopes' second visit to Fresno in his young career.

Music Director Theodore Kuchar kicked things off with Rossini's Overture to William Tell. Everyone knows the ending material, but how many are familiar with the cello quintet at the opening? Our cellists blended together and created a rich, full texture. Kuchar helped them along with the pulse, but these musicians had the music in their hearts and needed little assistance.

Kuchar maintained a light hand throughout this work, especially in the famous fanfare at the end. Notwithstanding an unfortunate gaffe in the brass at the beginning of this section, the light hand and the drive of the rhythm pulled the orchestra into a single unit, and it charged to the finish line with profound energy. The stage was set for something special.

Enter Hoopes, locked and loaded to play Symphonie espagnol for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 21 by Edouard Lalo. After a brief introduction of the first motif, Hoopes launched his fortissimo solo, a quick leaping arpeggio to the top of the instrument, where he seemed to miss his note before coming back down into the normal range.

One doesn't expect perfection from the young, but one also does not expect extraordinary tone either, and Hoopes had tone to burn. Pulling consecutive downbows on the low strings or ripping off scale passages at top speed, Hoopes' tone never suffered. Always rich, always full.

In the third movement Hoopes found his voice. Here, after the orchestra sets up the theme, the soloist takes over and develops the story. Hoopes' vision of the solo part here was filled with a playful approach to the jaunty rhythm and melody. While the movement is in the minor mode and the mood could be dark, Hoopes kept it light with an emphasis on the returns to the main three note motif. Again, his tone on the low strings was huge, filling up the theatre.

Kuchar and the orchestra maintained a very precise rhythmic structure throughout the five movements, and they paid close attention to creating space for the soloist, not always with success.

The final work on the program, Dvorak's Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 13, bears the strengths and the weaknesses of this composer. One searches long and fruitlessly to find weaknesses in the craftsmanship or in the musical argument in Dvorak's music. However, there are long stretches where one also searches fruitlessly for the point.

The orchestra put on a clinic for how to perform the first movement. Phrasing was precise, complete. Dymanics were extreme and expressive. Tempi were neither rushed nor dull. Balance and tone were at their best for this group. Yet, at the end of the movement, at least one listener was unmoved.

The wind band section at the beginning of the second movement, however, had all the appeal one hopes to find at a Fresno Philharmonic concert. Besides the interesting harmonies, the timbres of the trombone trio mixing with the other wind instruments blended into an elevated aural experience. When the strings joined, the whole atmosphere in the hall changed profoundly. These musicians clearly met the task of bringing a big Dvorak symphony to life.

George Warren, Ph.D., was the music critic for the Fresno Bee from 1998-2010. He is the Music Director at Hallmark Charter School.

Elevated Music: Alexander String Quartet at Fresno State

September 30, 2012

It's nice when a concert program delivers what you hope it will. Even better when that program elevates the spirit and inspires the mind unexpectedly. This was the happy occasion in the Concert Hall at California State University, Fresno Wednesday for the loyal and longstanding fans of the Alexander String Quartet. Read the whole review here.