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Review: Thakar steps quietly into his new role

The moment just before a new leader steps in front of a group for the first time is always one of trepidation. What direction will the organization take? Will this new person be up to the task?...

The moment just before a new leader steps in front of a group for the first time is always one of trepidation. What direction will the organization take? Will this new person be up to the task?
Moments into Markand Thakar's first concert as music director and conductor of the Duluth-Superior Symphony Orchestra, the man had won the hearts of many in the community, and no doubt had the DSSO selection committee patting each other on the back over a job well done.
Following the national anthem, which normally opens the symphony season, Thakar sounded all the right notes for the community in a few brief comments, painting the orchestra's future optimistically and inviting everyone to an "Up Close and Personal" segment following the concert, in which the conductor, along with orchestra members and soloists, takes questions from the audience.
More importantly, he changed the opening piece of the concert from Shostakovich's "Festive Overture," a celebratory one, to Elgar's "Nimrod Variation" from "Enigma Variations" -- which he intended as "a tribute to all the victims of that incomprehensible madness of last week."
He asked that the audience withhold its applause and observe a moment of silence in their honor at the end of the piece.
Starting with perfectly tuned strings at a remarkable pianissimo, the haunting piece built up and up on a melancholy melody, which seemed to capture the feelings we have all shared during these dark days. Undoubtedly, there were some wet eyes during this short movement.
After it ended, the audience honored Thakar's request and sat in silence -- but for a few gasps when all the lights went down.
As the lights came back up, the applause was thunderous. It was one of the more remarkable moments I have seen during a symphony concert.
If that was a tough act to follow, violin soloist Elmar Oliveira did not show it. A seasoned and celebrated performer, Oliveira has a commanding demeanor, characterized by his broad stance onstage. And despite a little tuning problem that forced him to retune during the first and second movements of the Barber violin concerto, his playing was up to his reputation. Oliveira is at once musical and dynamic, and his fast fingers were amply demonstrated by the final movement, which itself seemed capable of inducing carpal tunnel syndrome.
The orchestra also demanded attention during this piece, with a wonderful solo oboe, which sounded smooth enough to be a clarinet, and with admirable ensemble work staying together with the soloist during the rip-roaring last movement.
At intermission, the group got a well-earned standing ovation.
The last half of the concert was Beethoven's familiar "Eroica" symphony. The orchestra showed a nice energy level through most of the long piece. The first movement was highlighted by some excellent French horn playing, and the low strings got a chance to shine in the second movement. The third movement was short, but bold, and the fourth and final movement, despite some early rhythmic misadventures, had a woman near me swaying to the music and featured an interesting and well-played duet between bassoon and flute.
This half also provoked a standing ovation and an encore -- the aptly chosen "America the Beautiful," which proved even the audience has musical skill in this community; someone should have been watching to applaud their singing.
Saturday's concert did not, as Thakar hopes to do in the future, fill every seat in the house, but it came close on a lazy, rainy September Saturday night. More than 100 of those people stuck around well past 10 p.m. to meet him and the orchestra afterward, if that gives you an idea.
If Saturday was any indication of the DSSO's future, expect to see those audiences grow.

Kyle Eller is the news editor of the Budgeteer News and can be reached at kyle.eller@duluth.com or 723-1207.

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