|Matthew Jenkins Jaroszewicz
An Electrifying Union of Organ and Orchestra
By Tom Wachunas
“Organ playing is the manifestation of a will filled with the vision of eternity.” - Charles-Marie Widor
Among many fascinating aspects of the January 25 performance by the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO) was the ensemble’s untiring attentiveness to the conductor. Here was a remarkable connectivity, a sharpened focus, a palpable state of eager readiness. The musicians were always alert, ever poised to instantaneously respond, with riveting precision, to signals from the podium.
Those signals were transmitted in delightfully animated fashion by the CSO Assistant Conductor, Matthew Jenkins Jaroszewicz. Throughout the entire concert, beginning with an exuberant performance of Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, his lively baton technique was itself a kind of dancing at the podium. During the Berlioz work, he often leaned into the orchestra in flurries of pronounced gestures and prompts, as if to further embolden the whirling woodwinds, the sprightly percussion, and the blazing brass.
The remainder of the evening featured the captivating organ soloist, Heather Cooper, in three late-19th century French works. The first of those was Alexandre Guilmant’s Symphony No. 1 for Organ and Orchestra. The work is a marvelous employment of the organ’s full range of aural colors and voicings, seamlessly integrated with the powerful sonority of strings and brass. Call it an orchestra within an orchestra. Cooper’s nuanced shaping of passages ranging from sumptuous majesty to quiet, idyllic lyricism was utterly stunning.
Her rendering of the grand Toccata for Organ and Orchestra, the final movement of Charles-Marie Widor’s Symphony No. 5, was equally breathtaking. With bright, rhythmic punctuations from the brass and timpani, Cooper’s execution of the work’s thrilling cascades of constant staccato arpeggios, balanced with rich, syncopated chords, left the audience clamoring for more. She generously obliged with a barn-burner of an encore - J.S. Bach’s Gigue Fugue. The mesmerizing spectacle of her fingers moving along the keyboard, her feet gliding along the pedals, conjured a giddy vision in my mind: Imagine someone typing 100 words per minute while simultaneously doing a fast and intricate tap dance.
Following the intermission, Cooper joined the full orchestra for a magnificent performance of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 in C Minor (the “Organ Symphony”). While her artistry was certainly brilliant throughout, in this complex work, the organ isn’t a stand-alone virtuosic element so much as it’s on equal footing with the orchestra. Both articulate a scintillating array of colors, textures, and moods. From serene and ethereal moments, to substantial summonings of remarkable orchestral power, Cooper and her ensemble partners formed an altogether electrifying union.
The exhilarating symphony ended on a note of such splendorous grandeur that when conductor Matthew Jenkins Jaroszewicz finished his podium dance and turned to face the packed house, he seemed literally aglow. His triumphal, wide-eyed smile was contagious, prompting well-deserved joyous shouts of approval from all present.