Butler Symphony Orchestra shines in season debut

Ladies and gentlemen, your Butler University Symphony Orchestra!

If you were in the Schrott Center on Sept. 19, you know there isn’t much more to say.

In its first concert of the year, the new hall gave the ensemble a clarity and presence that it never seemed to have onstage in Clowes Memorial Hall.

The musicians excelled in the spotlight. The most powerful indicator of the quality of an orchestra is how well each individual communicates with every other player, sensitively passing lines while maintaining balance and matching style.

For the most part, the orchestra played very sensitively. The winds shined through a lush string texture with impressive precision. The strings were delicately attuned to one another, allowing them to play with subtle expressivity.

Judging by the audience reaction, the orchestra’s work did not go unappreciated. The audience called orchestra director Richard Clark back on stage three times after the final notes of “Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony” died away.

There is no doubt that the Schrott Center has helped the BSO communicate with its audience. But the clarity of the hall also has a price.

Every individual in the orchestra can be heard. There is no hiding in the Schrott Center.

Slight intonation problems were readily apparent, and stood out a couple times in the difficult upper-octaves of the high strings and in the winds.

When parts are not there, it comes through. A percussion mistake clouded up the opening of Josef Suk’s “Scherzo Fantastique.”

The hall also has peculiarities the orchestra needs to address. The vibrating of the open strings—left unstopped at the concert on Sunday—were so loud the sound took away from the music that preceded it.

The triangle also really carried in the hall, almost drowning out the rest of the musicians at points in the Haydn symphony.

Peculiarities and small player goofs aside, the program on Saturday was phenomenal.  Clark crafted a complimentary program, that flowed smoothly and logically.

The program began with Suk’s Scherzo, which came together nicely after the first few bars. The musicians played with clarity and energy.

This piece gave way to Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 100, which sat extremely well in the hall. Haydn’s tonal surprises, virtuosic melodies and classical motifs all came across well. The orchestra was locked-in enough to bring the symphony to life.

But the hall also showed that the orchestra has room for improvement in the subtlety of music making. Note lengths were not always together, and some parts had different sections playing with slightly different levels of energy.

I hope that Clark continues to program Haydn throughout the year, as the challenge of playing that music with the sensitivity and communication of a chamber orchestra will take the skilled BSO to the next level. And the Schrott Center is a good place to work on that communication.

The final piece of the program was Antonin Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony, and it began gorgeous, lush lines from the orchestra. The other pieces were played well, but this symphony was polished.

Good solos all around, great communication and a well-balanced brass backbone all helped the orchestra shine with true character.

The Butler Symphony Orchestra will improve in the Schrott Center. There is no doubt about that after its opening concert this season. It will have to, because the hall is unforgiving.

The fact that an already-great orchestra now has such an awesome opportunity for improvement made the slight imbalances or rare intonation mishaps seem like symbols of hope.

In summing up the achievements of the BSO in their opening program, the audience at the Schrott Center could not have said it any better: three ovations.

And many more from audiences to come, I imagine.

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