Season opening concert was a "YOWZA!" (Audience member direct quote)
The 2015-16 “BLOCKBUSTER” concert season opened with MUSIC ON FIRE, with repertoire that lit up the hall with intensity and excitement. The “fire” theme opened with “Ritual Fire Dance” by Spanish composer Manuel de Falla, followed by the colorful and dramatic "Firebird Suite" by Stravinsky.
Local saxophone phenom RUSSELL PETERSON was the featured soloist in a contemporary piece by Japanese composer Takashi Yoshimatsu, “Cyberbird – Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra.” The saxophone showpiece incorporated dazzling colors and rhythms along with dashes of jazz and rock, supported by FMSO Principal Percussionist Kenyon Williams on trap set and Jay Hershberger on piano.
(Right - rehearsal of "Cyberbird," with piano and percussion battery downstage flanking saxophonist Russ Peterson and conductor Christopher Zimmerman)
Respighi's towering "Pines of Rome" was the grand finale of the concert, bringing the audience roaring to its feet for the third time during the evening.
Here is what reviewer John Lamb of The Forum had to say:
Review: Peterson jazzes up Symphony opener with sax appeal
FARGO—The Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra was playing with fire in its season opener Saturday night and the results were very cool. If you go to today's encore performance, you'll find a jazz gig breaking out in the middle of a classical music concert.
Symphony member Russell Peterson set aside his bassoon and in a rare sight for symphony regulars, brought a sax to the front of the stage as the soloist on Takashi Yoshimatsu's "Cyberbird." The contemporary Japanese composer started off in progressive rock and jazz fusion bands, evident in this selection.
Peterson played with a lilting melody throughout the three movements with pianist Jay Hershberger and percussionist Kenyon Williams fueling the flight. At times the work folded into a swing number, then set off on a meditative soaring and later completely broke down into a free-jazz section with conductor Christopher Zimmerman keeping it all together.
The piece was as much fun to watch as it was to hear, with the sax and the flutes chirping at each other and Peterson walking across the stage to Williams' percussion arsenal for a face-off that included an added honk at Zimmerman for good measure. Peterson may have been the featured soloist, but Williams was also a treat, manning a stand-up trap set and a number of other percussive instruments, including a drum between his legs at one point.
Peterson is a real showman and the crowd ate it up, erupting with a standing ovation as soon as his reed left his mouth. That led to an encore with the sax man under a lone spotlight riffing on Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight." It felt so much like a club setting that some people, including someone on stage, took flash photos. Peterson himself may be partially to blame for that deviation from standard concert decorum as he convinced Zimmerman to pose for a selfie with the crowd in the background immediately before the number.
This wasn't your parents' symphony concert.
"Cyberbird" wasn't the only shiny object in the show. Igor Stravinsky's ballet score, "Firebird Suite," would've been the star on any other night, as would have the majestic and powerful finale, "The Pines of Rome" by Ottorino Respighi. And at just over four minutes, Manuel de Falla's "Ritual Fire Dance" was a dazzling appetizer to a thrilling show.
Zimmerman's commitment to works that are both challenging and rewarding for the performers and audience alike—in this case, all from the 20th Century—looks to be a winning formula for this year's theme of "blockbuster" shows.
(Right - 2-year-old Ami Beyers is captivated throughout the entire concert as she listens from the "cry" room - here she watches Russ Peterson's "'Round Midnight" encore. Perhaps we should rename it the "happy dance" room!)