GCO celebrates with Beethoven

Published: Friday, January 24, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 23, 2003 at 11:34 p.m.

This is nostalgia time for me.

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Shannon Lowe plays bassoon for the Gainesville Chamber Orchestra during a rehearsal. The orchestra will perform a mostly Beethoven program Sunday at University Auditorium.

RAY CARSON/Special to The Sun

When my family and I moved here in 1984, the Gainesville Chamber Orchestra had been in business less than a year. The group's first concert I attended was on the P. K. Yonge School campus. Despite the limitations of a first-year ensemble, that exposure reassured me that the cultural life of our new community was in order.

A lot has transpired since then, with several ups and downs along the way. But, once again, it is reassuring to see the GCO on hand, with its 20th anniversary season in progress. A solid indication of that presence takes place at 4 p.m. Sunday, when the orchestra will offer a mostly Beethoven program at its current home, University Auditorium.

Besides several changes in the ensemble's name and performance milieu, the most noticeable difference has been its leadership. Raymond Chobaz, professor of conducting in the UF School of Music, was the GCO's founding music director. Over a 15-year span he ensured the performing repertoire covered the basics of the core Central European literature. That especially included all the nine Beethoven symphonies and all but one of Schubert's nine.

For the past couple of seasons, Gainesville native son Evans Haile has been in charge. His interests may be a little different, but that in no way leaves out the likes of Beethoven. He's already displayed a secure grasp on that region of the musical landscape.

Haile's background suggests he should do very well in a variety of musical formats, ranging from musical theater to Wagner to Gershwin. That should include as well the one non-Beethoven item in Sunday's concert - excerpts from the "Florida Suite" by English composer Frederick Delius. The GCO also will perform this piece in its much-anticipated October appearance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

As for the major work on Sunday's program - Beethoven's Seventh Symphony - well, that's another source for some personal reflection.

This piece introduced me to the world of live classical music back in the 1950s, when the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra happened to stop by the small central New Jersey college community I was cooped up in at the time. The instructor for the music appreciation course I was taking had cleverly worked the upcoming performance into his lesson plan, and it all led up to a maximum impression.

The conductor, by the way, was then new to the job - Herbert von Karajan. Apparently he hadn't expanded his repertoire very much at first, since the group repeated the same Beethoven work on its return tour the following year.

Actually, such redundancy was entirely appropriate. When Beethoven conducted the premiere of the work in 1813, it was relatively common to have an individual movement encored on the spot. In this case, the audience made the unusual choice of the slow, second movement. In fact, other conductors later were obliged to include that movement as an addendum to performances of his Eighth Symphony.

As I later found out, I had been lured into some music of an especially visceral appeal. You'll find out, too, how Richard Wagner could later come to call this music "the apotheosis of the dance."

All that, and Beethoven's "Egmont" Overture as well.

For this, Haile will have at his command an augmented version of the Gainesville Chamber Orchestra. Four extra horn players have been recruited, along with a few other musicians, to bring the ensemble size for this event to 52 players.

A rousing introduction, indeed, to this 20th anniversary season.

Tickets will be on sale at the window, or call (352) 336-5448.

David Grundy can be reached at DMGrundy@aol.com.

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