Oldies but goodies: Symphony offers ageless pleasures

The Charlottesville-University Symphony Orchestra
at Old Cabell Hall
Sunday, November 10

It's no secret that classical music, in the eyes of the determinedly youthful denizens of this impossibly hip hamlet, is entirely uninteresting (to the point that 90 percent of The Hook's readers have, in all probability, turned the page already).

Charlottesville's under-30 crowd generally assigns interest in classical music to their grandparents' generation, as if a penchant for Prokofiev implies that you're a devout Errol Flynn fan and vote with the Moral Majority. When I'm on the way to a symphony concert, my friends invariably ask me what I'm all dressed up for. When I tell them, I always earn an appreciative nod, but nobody ever asks how to get tickets.

That's a shame, because classical music abounds in this town, mostly thanks to UVA's music department. Of particular interest is the Charlottesville-University Symphony Orchestra, directed by Carl Roskott (an ensemble which, truth be told, I've participated in from time to time over the last five years). As the name implies, the CUSO is a blend of students, faculty, and community members, and it culls some remarkable talent from those three groups.

First on the program at a concert last week was Berlioz' "Roman Carnival Overture," a cathartic spectacle of bacchanalian dynamism which galloped to its fleet-footed finished with a flourish of guest conductor Paul Kim's able baton.

Next up was a violin concerto by UVA faculty member Walter Ross, with the excellent Svend Ronning (regulars will remember Svend as the CUSO's concertmaster for a number of years) as violin soloist. A contemplative exploration of polyphonous permutations, the piece conjures up a remarkable set of textures that I've come to associate with what I've heard of Ross' compositions.

After intermission came Beethoven's stunning Seventh Symphony, which stirs and soothes in those magical proportions that mark what's best about the work of that extraordinary musician. It pushes Beethoven's genius to an extreme (famed composer Carl Maria von Weber, on hearing the work performed, reportedly called Beethoven "quite ripe for the madhouse,"), but it's gone on to assume tremendously popular status in the classical canon. It was a truly absorbing performance.

Those who consider the symphony a dead art should look beyond the fact that when you go you sit in a darkened room with a crowd of well-dressed geriatrics, by and large. It's true that physical interactions are kept to a decorous limit– no dancing, no stray clapping, certainly no grabbing a beer between sets– but the possibilities for emotional and intellectual engagement are boundless. Next time around, give it a try.