Friday, April 27, 2012

A Manic Montage

A Manic Montage
By Tom Wachunas

     “I have very little tolerance for the assumption that art should coddle, entertain, or intrigue us soley on the merits of familiar, conventional rules of composition, skill, or methodology. I should hope that by now we’re smarter than that.”  - June Godwit, from “There’s Something In My Cheek But It’s Not My Tongue”-

     After a somewhat protracted hiatus (a story I’ll save for another time, maybe), Gallery 6000 has snapped to attention with some crackling new, eye popping art. Hmmm. Snap…crackle…pop? Sounds  like it could be a title for an exhibit. And so it is.

    “Snap Crackle Pop” features 15 new, mixed media works by local artists Craig Uncle Dreg Booth and Rick Huggett. Both artists employ a photomontage technique, though with wildly differing aesthetic approaches.

     Compared to Craig Booth’s earlier, relatively more straightforward ventures into digital art photography, his works here are considerably more evolved and complex in visual textures and multiple perspectives. You could arguably call them snippets of reality from a pop-culture diarist.

     Booth’s incorporation of collaged images mounted in relief (many clearly appropriated from ‘found’ sources) gives his often surreal content a mock-3D appearance, and a sculptural heft. Their scope is dreamlike, to a certain extent even cinematic, and not unlike the strange narratives you might find in a modern graphic novel. A few have the aura of a William S. Burroughs-type fantasy, as in “Drunken Poets Dream.” Others exude an air of free-association with personal memories. With their surfaces uniformly encased in a generous coat of high-gloss clear resin, the pictures are densely composed moments and suspended as if under water. And with their saturated colors sometimes reminiscent of the psychedelic era, these snappy pictures do indeed pop.

     Rick Huggett’s pieces are digital photomontages that incorporate vinyl decals. Five of them feature cartoonish critters (a bat, a cow, a beaver, a mouse, and a newly-hatched chick) rendered in his somewhat trademark style of jittery, boldly colored contour lines. They float against ethereal (printed in extremely light gray) background images. His seemingly arbitrary juxtapositions of photographic realities with the oddly refined crudity of his logo-like drawings certainly have a childlike if not enigmatic goofiness about them.

    It would be easy to write off these reductivist configurations as inane or simplistic. But I think there’s something more engaging and sophisticated going on here. Maybe they’re a collective commentary on homogenized depersonalization and random acts of meaninglessness. Or perhaps a coolly distilled response to the boggling sensory overload so easily encountered on the Internet. Visually, and ironically enough, for all of the open space in Huggett’s compositions – occupied yet eerily barren – I’m reminded of the ridiculously cluttered look and content of web pages such as those on Facebook. More ironic, we’ve immersed ourselves in a technology that on the one hand promises connectivity with flesh-and-blood reality, and on the other pares life down to the www language of codes, hyperlinks, icons, and trends. And we seem to ‘like’ it.

    One of Huggett’s pieces, showing a funky spotted cow wearing a bell and floating next to a carton of cultured lowfat buttermilk, is called “Ring Bell, Win Prize!” Got life? Click mouse, press Enter.  LOL.   

   “Snap Crackle Pop” on view through July 31 at Gallery 6000. OPENING RECEPTION is on TUESDAY, MAY 1, 5:30 – 7:30 pm. – please RSVP to Becky DeHart at (330) 244 – 3518 or  Gallery 6000 is located in the University Center Dining Room, on the Kent State University Stark campus.

    Photos: (Top) “Ties” by Rick Huggett /  “Drunken Poets Dream” by Craig Uncle Dreg Booth

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Driven to Real Affection

Driven to Real Affection
By Tom Wachunas

    Sentimentality is a many splintered thing. We tend to dismiss those stories that have too much of it as hoakey and inconsequential. I suspect that when negative criticisms are leveled against a play or a movie because of its fluff content, the problem is often at least as much to be found in the performance as it is in the writing. When actors wallow too much in teary mush, it’s no doubt a reflection of the director’s vision.

     But like cholesterol, there’s the good  kind and the bad kind of sentimentality.  Alfred Uhry’s play, “Driving Miss Daisy,” which won the 1988 Pulitzer for drama, and became an Oscar-winning movie (best picture) in 1989, is dripping with the good stuff – authentically heartwarming, not heart clogging. In directing the current Canton Players Guild Theatre production of the play, Dennis O’Connell has effectively seen to it that his actors keep their characters credible while not drowning in their own syrup.

    So who are the characters? The play opens just as Miss Daisy Werthen, a septuagenarian Jewish widow in Atlanta, has crashed her spanking new 1948 Packard into the neighbor’s garage. This is a last- straw incident, prompting her prosperous businessman son, Boolie, to hire for her a black chauffeur, Hoke Coleburn, to take over all driving duties. Daisy vigorously resists at first, but after she reluctantly gives in, her tolerance of Hoke progressively blossoms into full-fledged trust and friendship over the next 25 years.

   In keeping with the aim of the Players Guild ‘Stripped Away’ series of productions on its intimate arena stage, everything about this production is well designed for maximum dramatic affect with a minimum of special effect: a few pieces of furniture; a backdrop of painted panels (designed by Joshua Erichsen) that alternately suggest fancy wallpaper and an elegant garden; and a car comprised of two chairs facing forward.

    The character of Boolie is not just a superficial adjunct to the story. To that role, Scotland Gallo brings impressive substance – a warm mix of Southern gallantry, generosity, and compassion. He’s convincingly authentic, too, when conflicted between his Southern liberal Jewish world-view and an invitation to attend a dinner for Martin Luther King.

    Marci Paolucci (Miss Daisy) and Marvin L. Mallory (Hoke) are, separately and together, astonishing beyond words (but that never stopped me before). Paolucci’s heartrending transformation from the imperious and dictatorial Daisy at the beginning, the gradual dissipation of her fierce pride and independence, through to the completely thawed, docile, and loving woman in the nursing home at the end, is a riveting theatrical marvel to behold. Likewise, Mr. Mallory is a powerhouse of subtlety as he paints a compelling portrait of deference, dignity, feisty patience and affection, all tempered with an insistence that he be regarded as more than an anonymous servant, more than some “….back of the neck you look at while you goin’ wherever you want to go.”

    For as much as what these people say is certainly important, it’s how they say it that fuels their 25 year-long drive together with such palpable grace – with powerful facial expressivity and body language, right down to their progressively hunched backs and weary gaits.

    Here, then, is a truly stellar display of masterful stagecraft. The cast clearly respects this script, which  transcends artificial symbols, or gratuitous preaching on the era of racial divide wherein the story unfolds. Instead, they generously present real, breathing people, taking us on a memorable ride through the tender and coarse vicissitudes of their own mortality. And, except for the hopelessly cynical and stone-hearted among you, I guarantee good sentiment will out, and tears will be shed.

   Driving Miss Daisy, THROUGH MAY 6,  at the Players Guild William G. Fry Theatre, 1001 Market Ave. North, in Canton. Shows are Friday and Saturday 8 pm, and Sunday at 2:30 pm. All tickets $11, available at or (330) 453 – 7617
  PHOTO by James Dreussi

Sunday, April 22, 2012

No Hard Feelings

No Hard Feelings

By Tom Wachunas

    At one point during “BOING!!”, a new musical that premiered at the Kathleen Howland Theatre on April 20, Jimmy and Dolly, two guardian angels whose earthly mission is to reconcile troubled marriages, swap stories about random acts of kindness they have performed. Dolly recounts how she once appeared before a dishonest house painter (who cheated a client by using watered-down paint) in the middle of the night and, mustering her spookiest admonishing voice, intoned, “RePAINT, rePAAAINT!” It’s one of several real groaners that punctuate this well-meaning but shallow romantic comedy, written by Stark County residents Bob and Jane Vignos (husband and wife), and directed by Carla Derr.

    For the authors of the production, this first- time foray into writing musical theatre was clearly a labor of love in their retirement years – a fulfilled dream. Alas, I wish I could tell you it was a fulfilling theatrical experience from where I was sitting. I keep hearing “ReWRITE, reWRIIITE!”

    The story line is one of several shortcomings. While the premise is certainly not original (stories of angels sent to fix our screw-ups are as old as…well, angels), it is nonetheless potentially rich territory for bringing us credible characters of genuine substance. Here, though, it’s largely an unrealized potential. The writing (both as story and music) is simply too one-dimensional. The marriage of characters Tom and Mary is on the rocks due largely to Tom’s incessant gambling. But the real emotional heft of the problem and its consequences for both is treated in a maddeningly perfunctory manner, yielding just a few saccharine songs about longing for better days. Character development is similarly without depth in the second act when niece Anne meets Hugh (due to an angelic manipulation) and they fall head-over-heels in love (the ‘boing’ moment) within about a minute or so, yielding still a few more songs that have all the cloying sweetness of a Hallmark card. Jerome Kern this is not.

    There are, to be sure, moments of endearing silliness, provided for the most part by Don Milbrodt as angel Jimmy, and Connie Crabtree as his cohort, Dolly. Crabtree in particular turns in an uncanny reading of her character – a delightful hybrid of quirky gestures and speech mannerisms reminiscent of Jessica Tandy and Ruth Gordon.

    Easily the most perplexing surprise of the night is the singing by cast in general. Jay Spencer as Tom, and Jodi Wilson as Mary, do manage to deliver their tunes with a pleasing enough degree of melodic accuracy, and similarly Kerry Bush in her role of Marie, a pleasure cruise entertainer. But regrettably, no amount of nervous or cheery mugging to the audience (and there’s a lot of that) can disguise the sometimes embarrassing lack of singing skills on the part of the rest of the cast.

     Amid all the smiley-faced, let’s-put-on-a-show camaraderie among the performers, there were  passages when I thought this  might be a satire or a send-up of, say, old-timey movie musicals, family or class reunion skits, or karaoke night at the local pub. In fact, with some serious re-structuring, adding harmony parts to the songs, and the right performers, maybe parody is a possible direction for this show.  But somehow I think that’s not what the writers had in mind.

    It saddens me to say that, given the script in its current condition, the proceedings on stage don’t have too much staying power. Call it a valiant but flawed attempt at a howling good time.

    “BOING!!” at the Kathleen Howland Theatre, located in Second April Galerie, 324 Cleveland Ave. NW. Tickets $10 – shows April 27 at 7p.m., and April 28 at 2 p.m.  (330) 451 – 0924    




Thursday, April 19, 2012

Close Proximities

Close Proximities
By Tom Wachunas

“All’s grist that comes to his mill.” - proverb (Chinese?) -

His palette is rarely festive. His thematic content is a dense conflation of earthly scenarios, myth-like fantasies, and personal commentaries, often generously colored with surreal whimsy. His materials are a dumpster diver’s delight.

The art of painter and sculptor Joseph Close looks like it’s made from the stuff of junkyards: salvaged furniture remnants, industrial bric-a-brac, and all manner of found objects. More ingenious than merely clever, however, there’s nothing gratuitously cute or kitschy about his ambitious constructions. Made from castoffs, they successfully cast off the insouciant gee-whiz-what-can-I-do-with-these-old-car-parts-and-jewelry mentality behind much of the popular trash art being made these days.

Additionally, Close is at his best when he enhances the emotional heft of these assemblages by incorporating his facile handiwork as a remarkably gifted figurative painter. There’s an ineffable rightness and cohesiveness about his works that fuse painted imagery with variously combined appendages of stressed wood, metal, or fiber. They often have the look of ritualistic or ceremonial icons, or preternatural artifacts fashioned by an old soul.

That said, some of the works in his current one-man show at Cyrus Custom Framing & Art Gallery exude a gravitas that can be at times darkly enigmatic or arcane. But even at their most chromatically dreary (like the early Cubists’ canvases) or conceptually obtuse, what keeps these works compelling enough is their narrative spirit. There are stories to be found here, some more accessible and/or light of heart than others.

Both “Pop and the Guru” and “Gaia and Rabbit,” for example, are imbued with a folkloric sensibility that’s both mystical and charming in a quietly brooding sort of way. Pieces such as “Symphony,” “Moses ‘Rabbit’ White,” and “Snow and Clarence” are relatively more celebratory in nature – playful homages, so to speak, to music.

Indeed, in this collection, Close seems to have devoted particular attention to a musical Muse. He has titled his exhibit “Step Wise” – as in stepwise, here used in the word’s musical application of a gradual progression of adjacent tones. It’s an apt title when considering that instruments, or parts thereof, are a repeated motif throughout the show, and usually allude to the world of jazz. And to a certain metaphorical extent, the ‘cool’ lyric spirit of these pieces suggests the be-here-now rawness of free-form jazz improvisations.

Nowhere is the aura of gritty, poetic immediacy more apparent or haunting than in “Entrophy.” The carpenter’s level perched on the top edge of the painting might symbolize the higher processes needed to bring equilibrium to the expressionistically rendered images below – a subtly epic montage of societal structures in flux. A balancing of chaos and renewal, perhaps. Like many of the works here, it’s a story at once fleeting and gripping, and an otherwise deeply sensitive embrace of ascending human spirit amid worldly degradation.

“Step Wise,” new sculpture and painting by Joseph Carl Close, is on view at Cyrus Custom Framing & Art Gallery through June 30, 2645 Cleveland Avenue NW. (330) 452 - 9787

Photos: (Top) “Gaia and Rabbit” / "Entrophy" / (Bottom) “Moses ‘Rabbit’ White” - detail

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Vivacious Classical Collage from Canton Symphony

A Vivacious Classical Collage from Canton Symphony Orchestra
By Tom Wachunas

The Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) Cameo Concerts feature a chamber ensemble comprised of the orchestra’s finest musicians performing under the baton of CSO Associate Conductor Matthew Brown. Hosting this season’s performances were Louisville Middle School (presented in cooperation with the Julliard Arts Center) on April 14, and the Lions Lincoln Theatre in Massillon, sponsored by The Fred F. Silk Charitable Foundation, on April 15.

Judging from the sparse attendance, perhaps the Massillon performance somehow slipped under public awareness radar. Or maybe it was Nature’s call to be outdoors in absolutely gorgeous April weather that simply proved too much for even the most stalwart CSO supporters to resist. That said, the musical weather inside Lions Lincoln Theatre on April 15 was gloriously invigorating.

The concert’s opening work – Rossini’s Overture to La scala di seta (The Silken Ladder) - was itself a delightful nod to spring spirits, bursting with vibrant crescendos and the engaging interplay of stirring melodies and quick rhythms. The orchestra was commanding as well as charming in its embrace of all the work’s buoyant energy and humor (many have compared its similarity in structure and spirit to a movement Mozart would have written), including Rossini’s deliciously rich writing for solo wind instruments.

The second work on the program – Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture – was performed with equally impressive vigor. One could reasonably expect that a modern full orchestra would surely do justice to this dramatic piece, conjuring as it is does the powerful, ethereal images of towering, wind-swept cliffs, ocean mists, and rolling waves. Most remarkable is that the CSO, pared down to roughly a third of its full size, on this occasion was nevertheless riveting in bringing sonorous physicality to those images.

Easily the most arresting music of the afternoon was provided by violinist Lauren Roth, CSO Concertmaster, in a stunning performance of a single-movement gem by Camille Saint-Saens, Romance for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 48. It’s an achingly mellifluous work, evoking both wistful melancholy and quiet joy, and certainly demanding in its dazzling range of note runs. Roth pulled out all the stops, as it were. Her facile tonal control and virtuosic clarity breathed real lyric power into this rarely heard work.

In a refreshingly mischievous note to the audience prior to the final work on the program – Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 (Haffner) - Maestro Brown commented on the traditional concert protocol of withholding applause until all four movements of a symphony are completed. Grinning widely, he clearly enjoyed encouraging us to eschew the practice and clap after each movement if we were so inclined. The audience gladly obliged, and appropriately so. Brown’s uniquely animated conducting manner effectively drew out this music’s lively octave leaps, witty rhythms, and lilting formality, all the way through to the crackling, fast finale. Bravo Presto! Once again the CSO proved its technical and interpretive prowess with memorable panache, and in the process gave a fitting welcome to the sparkling energy of spring.

Photos: CSO Associate Conductor Matthew Brown, and CSO Concertmaster Lauren Roth
Please visit for ordering tickets, or call the box office at (330) 452-2094. CSO final MasterWorks series concert of the 2011-2012 season, with Gerhardt Zimmermann conducting, will be at Umstattd Hall on Saturday, April 28, 8p.m.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


By Tom Wachunas

Some visual phenomena warrant fresh descriptive vocabulary. Case in point: “Fluorescence,” the stunning exhibit of seven new acrylic paintings on paper by Sarah Fairchild – an artist and arts educator living in Columbus - recently opened in the Main Hall Gallery at Kent State University Stark campus. I don’t mind telling you that the last time I saw anything on a wall this ecstatically hallucinatory was in 1970. To the blaring strains of Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma LP (antique 12” vinyl disc), a herd of multicolored elephants was waltzing through a psychedelic rain forest splayed across the white walls of a friend’s apartment. No, not a Disney movie. Just my first acid trip. I know, I know. Those of you who know me might be thinking, “This would explain a lot.” But I digress.

Suffice to say that rarely have I seen paintings of a horticultural nature (mostly garden vegetables here) rendered in such a uniquely mannered way, not only in their lavishly meticulous detail, but also in palette and composition. Rarer still is to see how this particular physical space has been transformed into a wholly riveting, and certainly magical visual encounter.

Even the gallery air itself seems alive with a pervasive, hushed, faintly reddish glow. It’s a delightfully theatrical effect due in large part to how these works collectively reflect the gallery lighting. All of the leafy forms are painted in analogous fluorescent pinks and magentas that hover dramatically against variously-hued backgrounds shimmering with subtle metallic iridescence.

Welcome to Sarah Fairchild’s phantasy garden. Here, the lush, warm plant life appears so tactile and dimensionally substantial (often aided by the integration of accents in dark nylon flocking) that it’s hard at first to believe these are, after all, flat paintings. Her forms are like relief sculptures floating in atmospheres suggestive of phosphine – that physiological sensation of feathery light blooms you see when pressing on your eyeballs through closed lids. And for all of their beautiful exactitude as representational imagery, many of the paintings’ interior passages are intriguingly abstract. Some of those passages are playful reversals of the figure-ground dynamic, as when little chunks of background color show through holes in the leaves.

Throughout the gallery space there is a type of vaguely ‘haute couture’ wallpaper sensibility at work. In fact, in her statement for the show, Fairchild at one point cites a kinship, albeit thoroughly modernized, with the wallpaper designs of Charles Burchfield. It’s true that living within Fairchild’s bold configurations are echoes of the charged ethereality that occupies so many of Burchfield’s more haunting landscape paintings. But Fairchild pushes that ethereality into even more ornate and intricate realms of pure design, such that each individual leaf, stem, shadow, or snippet of “sky” is often a microcosm – at once part of the whole and a whole unto itself.

Speaking of wallpaper, one work here is indeed just that. “Maize” (acrylic, silkscreen, and nylon flocking) is adhered directly to an entire wall of the gallery, measuring 104” x 336”. This utterly mesmerizing vision gives new meaning to "color field" painting. The cornstalks seem to simultaneously stand at attention and vibrate with repeated, fascinating symmetries that in some ways bring to mind Rorschach ink blots.

Good enough to eat? Fairchild’s distinctly irradiated palette might suggest a tentative if not volatile relationship between contemporary agricultural technology and the purity of the food we ingest. To that extent, her renderings of edible plants are arguably not “appetizing” in a traditional sense. But in this spectacular manifestation, they do provide eminently satisfying cerebral sustenance, along with amaizing visual grace.

“Fluorescence” will be on view through May 4 at Main Hall Gallery, lower level of Main Hall on the Kent State University Stark campus in Jackson Township. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, and 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

Photos: Middle - “Brussels Sprouts – September” 54” x 72” / Top - “Trumpet Lilies” 54” x 72” / Bottom - “Maize” – wallpaper installation

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

To Countenance Empowerment

To Countenance Empowerment
By Tom Wachunas

“Equality for women and girls is not only a basic human right, it is a social and economic imperative. Where women are educated and empowered, economies are more productive and strong. Where women are fully represented, societies are more peaceful and stable.” - Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, at the July, 2010 creation of UN Women, the first UN entity dedicated exclusively to gender equality and women’s empowerment –

“I want the viewer to see these people as individuals, to know their names and a bit of their history, not just view them as an anonymous part of some remote ethnic or tribal group.” – Phil Borges, photographer and founder of Stirring The Fire: a global movement toward gender equality –

Photography can be a particularly efficacious medium for constructing the aura of truth about a person, place, or thing. In portraiture, the most compelling pictures are those that somehow get beneath the formal visage to raise up the possibility of deeply considering a real human being - to manifest the immediacy, and often the urgency, of a life.

That’s precisely what makes the 35 portraits by Phil Borges, currently on view at Translations Art Gallery and the adjacent Anderson Creative gallery, so breathtakingly inspired and inspiring. “Stirring The Fire” is a social documentary photography installation, sponsored locally by Soroptimist International of Canton/Stark County, that chronicles both the struggles and victories of women and girls from around the world – largely in developing countries – who are confronting searing issues such as violence and abuse, human trafficking, obstacles to education, and health.

Borges’ photographs are black and white, except for the sharply focused faces, the human flesh, filtered in such a way that all the individuals are rendered in warm, earthen tones. It’s a remarkably dramatic effect, presenting a diverse population from across the globe, simultaneously enhancing the subjects’ individuality while unifying them in and through their accompanying stories. Some of those stories, each just several sentences in length, are heartbreaking or startling, some shocking, but all carry a message of striving for and arriving at hope, enlightenment, and otherwise evolving cultural transformation in their respective communities.

For as much as these gripping, life-sized images are celebratory acknowledgements of individuals who have overcome cruel cultural practices and oppression (or are in the process), they are also haunting reminders of horrific suffering. But the aura exuded by these portraits is not one of sanctimonious anger or political vitriol. Theirs is a lovely spirit of strength and dignity, intended to be a catalyst for local rectifying actions that could have life-changing, global impact.

In considering the potential of art to be a viable tool for sociocultural reform, I’m reminded of how Dorothea Lange’s documentary photographs prompted government aid to Depression-era migrant families in California. Lewis Hines’ stark photographic record of children workers in the early decades of 20th century America were so useful in altering public awareness and opinion that child factory labor was outlawed by the 1930s. Of course art, in and of itself, can never be reasonably expected to put an end to egregious societal practices. Picasso’s “Guernica,” for all its explosive depiction of nightmarish terror, didn’t prevent the Nazis from spilling the blood of millions.

Still, in its most noble and compassionate intents, in its most formally consummate presentations, art such as that presented in this lovingly mounted exhibit, CAN be a powerful beacon, a clarion call to make a difference. A passing of the torch, as it were. A stirring of the fire. The faces here - the PEOPLE here – are unforgettable, as are their stories. Yet their stories may never be truly complete unless we transform our intellectual and aesthetic appreciation of suffering and injustice into tangible, pro-active change. And as remarkably courageous and commendable as this show is, it nonetheless remains a work in progress, requiring us to apply the finishing touches.

The exhibit runs through May 26 at Translations Art Gallery and Anderson Creative, 331 Cleveland Ave. NW in downtown Canton. Here are a few upcoming associated events: MAY 10, a reception at Translations Art Gallery with Phil Borges, 7 to 9 pm, tickets $15; MAY 13, “Microlending Film Project” documentary by Canton native Rachel Cook, at the Canton Palace Theatre, matinee at 3 pm ($5), VIP screening with filmmaker at 6 pm, $10.

Also visit / /

Photos by Phil Borges: Transito, age 91, from Ecuador / Rufo, age 7, from Ethiopia

Monday, April 2, 2012

Romantic Bliss, Sublime Brutality

Romantic Bliss, Sublime Brutality from the Canton Symphony
By Tom Wachunas

If a single concert by the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) in the last several years could, beginning to end, embody all of its lustrous, enthralling character and indefatigable energy, I have not the slightest doubt it was the event – the aesthetic phenomenon – that transpired at Umstattd Hall on March 31. And to accomplish such a feat with only two works on the program makes it all the more astonishing.

The evening was billed “A Romantic’s Dream,” and the program selections were a powerful embrace of the Romantic spirit in 19th century European symphonic music: Johannes Brahms’ Concerto for Violin and Violoncello, followed by Hector Berlioz’s "Symphonie Fantastique". Brahms wrote his 1887 concerto (the last of his works for full orchestra) in the final decade of his life, while Berlioz was just 27 when he completed his wildly ambitious work in 1830. For both composers, these passionate works were, among other things, innovative combinations of scintillating instrumental textures.

Brahms’ technical challenge was to integrate and balance the differing aural resonances of the solo instruments with the rest of the orchestra. So his writing for violin and cello was an uncanny blending, such that the two instruments become something of a single entity, yet sustain a distinctly conversational relationship between themselves and the orchestra, with no single element overpowering the other.

The two guest artists on this occasion – rising star cellist David Requiro, and violinist Nathan Olson (former CSO Concertmaster and now Co-Concertmaster with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra) – realized their daunting task with endearing panache to deliver a tour-de-force performance in every sense of the word. For all of their considerable virtuosity as individuals, cellist and violinist were clearly concentrating on listening to each other to achieve a sweet, tonal equilibrium between themselves and the orchestra. Neither soloist needed to be - nor was ever - too forced in his articulations. Even their most quiet and intricately tender voicings were audible. Theirs was a seamless, crisp exchange of musical comments that interplayed flawlessly with the work’s luscious, ebb-and-flow dynamics of loud and soft orchestral harmonies. And through it all, Maestro Gerhardt Zimmermann’s interpretive prowess was in peak form. At times he appeared very relaxed and confident in ceding control of the momentum to the soloists. But in his thoroughly refreshing reading of this work, he consistently balanced such passages with those of more breathtaking orchestral sonority.

In this same spirit of brilliantly nuanced orchestral assertiveness, Zimmermann led the CSO in what should best be called an unleashing of "Symphonie Fantastique". Berlioz’s original program notes remain among the most articulate expositions of a composer’s intent ever written, and set the stage thus: “A young musician of morbid sensitivity and ardent imagination poisons himself with opium in a fit of amorous despair…” What follows is the tumultuous story of a narcotic-induced dream (inspired by a Berlioz’s bitter season of unrequited love) in five movements that, when written, was largely unprecedented in structure, thematic methodology, aural effects, and relentlessly agitated drama.

It is indeed the work’s intense emotionality that appears to have been ingested, like a drug (I mean metaphorically, of course), by the CSO for this occasion. Every section of the orchestra played as if driven by a sublimely brutal intentionality, collectively entranced in a contagious urgency to pour out the work’s frenzied fantasy. Strings rising and falling in sumptuous waves, thunderous and deafening brass and percussion, shimmering winds plaintive and ethereal – all were united, startlingly clear and electrifying, under Zimmerman’s transfixing authority.

Many of us are well acquainted with this Berlioz gem and its theatrical facets that include the iconic melody of his beloved 'idee fixe' (an obsessive or delusional idea) threaded through the entire work, the piercing bell tolls, the haunting inclusion of Dies Irae, the suggestions of heavy feet marching up the executioner’s scaffold, or the dull thudding of the guillotined head. Not that familiarity with this masterpiece ever bred contempt on my part, but here the orchestra’s eminently vigorous, impassioned rendering was utterly transformative, imbuing the work with surprising new life. In the process, the CSO has established for itself a soaring new standard for measuring blissful symphonic monumentality.

Photo” “Symphonie Fantastique” by Julio de Diego, 1946