It’s like scoring five runs in the top of the first inning.
Or connecting on a long touchdown pass on your first play from scrimmage.
Or a birdie on your first hole.
It was that kind of night Saturday for the Abilene Philharmonic. The popular phrase “knocked it out of the park” is more than appropriate. It also would please orchestra conductor David Itkin, who is a big Boston Red Sox fan.
While “Our Town” was performed two blocks to the south, the orchestra in our town opened its 68th season. New faces were seen, perhaps attending their first performance. And there were the faithful, such as Harriett Conner, who with her late husband Jack attended performances when those were held at Abilene High School.
All were treated to a fine program that featured 2017 Van Cliburn competition bronze medalist Daniel Hsu. Rarely, if ever, does Itkin miss on guest artists but the youthful Hsu clearly was top of the line.
The audience saw him thoroughly engaged in Frédéric Chopin’s “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in E minor.” He swayed to the orchestral parts, sometimes eyes closed, and merged seamlessly into the music when it was his turn to play. The guest artist and orchestra were one.
His body language suggested his love for and emotional pull to the concerto. He sometimes seem to be almost floating over the keys, and at other times his left leg rocked back and forth. He played both delicately and aggressively.
Piano teachers would thrill at the images because they teach slouching or stiff-sitting young students to become part of the music — to perform and not just play.
Saturday’s audience twice brought Hsu back on stage but despite a few shouting “Encore,” he did not play again.
A shout-out goes to Itkin, who conducted while seated. We were told that between rehearsal that afternoon and arriving back at the Convention Center he injured his back. It was awkward for him to turn to his left to cue with Hsu but, again, all went well.
This was an unusual concert in that only two pieces were played, thus giving the audience a long listen to the orchestra. The opening piece was Béla Bartók’s “Concerto for Orchestra,’ which provided a more modern sound to contrast with the Chopin.
Kevin Smith, executive director of the Philharmonic, was beaming as concertgoers crossed the auditorium lobby, buzzing about the performance.
“It just gets better,” he said of the newly launched season, which resumes Oct. 27 and features Ballet Folklorico del Big Country.
Itkin is masterful at mixing classic performances for the purists and more contemporary evenings that appeal to a wider audience.
For 68 years, the arts in Abilene have included nights of symphony. We are better for it.
Let us also note that the money Abilene residents invested in Convention Center improvements through bond approval was seen. For example, the brightly lighted outside areas of the auditorium. Was it that dingy all these years?
If you chose the Philharmonic over Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” the final two performances at the Paramount Theatre are Friday and Saturday.
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