May 1, 2009 - Violinist Sarah Chang with the Austin Symphony
     I don't think about orchestra musicians having allergies.  But with all the sniffling and coughing going on at The Long Center on Friday night, a case of the allergies would certainly explain the sloppy trumpet playing during the Austin Symphony's rendition of Tchaikovsky's "Capriccio Italien, op. 45."  The brass section was muddy instead of staccato, putting a damper on the Russian composer's celebration of Rome's Carnival.
     But that didn't sway the crowd, who gave the Austin Symphony Orchestra three straight standing ovations during the evening.  The first came for the opening performance - the world premiere of Dan Welcher's "Symphony no. 5."
     An internationally respected composer living and teaching in Austin, Welcher took the podium to explain his composition, which was written specifically for the Austin Symphony.  Composed of four movements and loosely patterned from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, the piece was more of a tone poem, with recurring lines and structures.
    The first and third movements were reminiscent of a few Leonard Bernstein compositions,
especially his "Symphonic Dances from West Side Story."  The second movement, which Welcher said was inspired by watching the bats on Congress Avenue Bridge, brought to mind sections of "Night on Bald Mountain" with heavy Mussorgsky-esque overtones.   The fourth movement tied everything together by playing with the established musicals themes in a rondo of dance rhythms.
    But it was special guest violinist Sarah Chang who stole the show.  I knew from my interview with the international classical star that she was a dynamic musician that consistently wowed the critics.  But I was unprepared for the intense emotional musicality she creates when she plays.  
     Hitting the stage in a fully-beaded white gown, she sparkled physically and musically.  Her technical skill is unparalleled, but the artistry she brought to Bruch's "Violin Concerto no. 1 in G minor, op. 26" simply stopped the show - earning Chang an enthusiastic standing ovation.  We sat behind Long Center namesakes Joe and Theresa Long - who are not easily impressed - and all they kept saying was "Wow!"

(Image: Sarah Chang; photo by Cliff Watts)