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WSO, Hymes open her final season beautifully

The Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra’s opening concert of its 35th season was notable for more than good music: it marked the beginning of the end of Janna Hymes as the orchestra’s music director and the return performance of an exciting violin soloist.

Hymes decided to leave the orchestra after having met the goals she set when she came here 15 years ago, turning the WSO from an pretty good operation into one of high quality and appeal. Last year, she became the music director of the much larger Carmel (Indiana) Symphony that performs in what appears to be a top notch, elegant 1,600-seat, acoustically designed performing arts center. She boasts an ambitious musical program there, all of which is positive for her continued growth and talents.

Our loss is certainly Carmel’s gain. And Monday‘s opening concert in the intimate Kimball Theatre provided us the chance to begin to reflect on the years’ worth of delight she and the WSO have brought us. A strong base of musical excellence has been set, which hopefully will continue to grow with a new director and sustained orchestral membership.

The fare opened on a lively note with Mozart’s “Overture to ‘The Marriage of Figaro,’” which the WSO dashed off with vigor and flair. Next came Schubert’s Symphony No. 3 in D Major, a work of musical charm and pleasure. The WSO captured its joy and spirit in playing that was light, articulate, clean, crisp and lyrical.

The evening’s high point was the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major, selected by the audience last season as one of its top favorites selections. And, to do it justice, the WSO featured Stefan Jackiw who appeared here in 2013 in Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2. Now 33 years old, Jackiw continues to expand his horizons, hitting big international spots and showcasing his talents as a soloist and chamber musician.

It was good to have him return to town for this program and this work. The Beethoven is filled with beautiful, luxurious lines, delicately designed to allow an interplay between soloist and orchestra. Its components somewhat define sublime.

So too did Jackiw’s performance somewhat define dazzling. Assuredly, he excels in all things virtuoso, especially as heard in his cadenzas. And while his overall sound seemed a little cool for Beethoven, it was solid and secure and relayed the work’s lusciousness of lyrical lines. This young man certainly has the right skills for celebrity, as his growing international reputation attests. His performance was nearly textbook perfect.

There were, however, a few things that could have sent the performance over the top. Rather than stand closer to the audience, nearer the rear of the podium, Jackiw stood well within the inner circle, almost in front of Hymes, thus creating an invisible wall of sorts that seemed to have him playing more to Hymes than us. Consequently, an emotional component was slighted, keeping the Beethoven on the page, not embedded in its soul.

Technically, in the acoustically burdened Kimball, the positioning also rendered some of his exceptionally soft playing, especially in stratospheric levels, from being clearly heard from portions of the theatre. These matters, while seemingly small, are important matters for one who is still maturing and making stronger moves into the higher realms of star quality.

Such observations aside, this was a first class performance by Jackiw, one considerably enhanced by Hymes and the orchestra whose balance was as good as I recall any such accompaniment with the WSO. Again, we have the talents of Hymes to thank for the superior work done in this opening concert. The beginning of the end of a rewarding era.

Shulson, a Williamsburg resident, has been covering the arts for over 40 years. He makes a guest appearance in Margaret Truman's "Murder at the Opera."

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