APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra concerts have multiple personalities, and so it was again Saturday night.

The program carried the title of “Mahler 5!” because the major work – at least longest at more than an hour – was the “Fifth Symphony” of Gustav Mahler.

But two other works stood their own.

First came the world premiere of “Spark!” by Jacob Shay, a student of conductor Kevin Sütterlin.

“Spark!” is three or so minutes of vigor and swirling energy along with musical images of picturesque views. The work has a cinematic feel, as if introducing an epic film. All that’s left now is for someone to make that movie to fit the invigorating score.

Second came a piano concerto by Florence Price featuring pianist Artina McCain, who helped contribute to Price’s recent rise to prominence after years of obscurity.

The concerto is in three sections. The first features power, the second melancholy, the third a jaunty air.

Artina McCain’s flexibility was on display. Her astute musicianship included a special touch in the second section in which the piano and oboe trade “thoughts,” as if reminiscing warmly/sadly – with Artina McCain looking upward as if transported to a place known only to her soul.

Artina McCain and the orchestra received a standing ovation.

The final work, the Mahler, also received a standing ovation from the audience in Thrivent Financial Hall. During a callback, Kevin Sütterlin did not acknowledge individual musicians or sections but encouraged the whole orchestra to rise and take bows – this being a mass, coordinated group effort with abundant exposed moments.

Eighty-some musicians, 70-some minutes, exactly 385,432 notes – Mahler’s Fifth is quite the excursion.

One take on the piece: It’s an autobiography in music. It starts at the author’s imagined funeral and looks at a landscape of a life, scene by scene with each scene being a different collage of colors, shadows, brilliance, intricacies and textures – each its own. Pretentious?

Prior to the concert, Kevin Sütterlin led an informative session in Kimberly-Clark Theater in front of a substantial gathering.

Kevin Sütterlin, left, and featured composer Jacob Shay in a pre-concert session in Kimberly-Clark Theater prior to Saturday night’s Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra concert. (Warren Gerds)

Along with Jacob Shay and Artina McCain offering perspectives on what they do, Kevin Sütterlin provided an explanation of Mahler’s Fifth in illustrative language. Kevin Sütterlin has a way with verbalizing music beyond notes and technical terms. His pre-concert sessions are go-to things.

At times Saturday, Kevin Sütterlin enthused about the Mahler work, even though parts describe horrible things that happened in the composer’s life. There even was a comical turn when Kevin Sütterlin called one passage “awful music in the best way possible.”


Program: “Mahler 5!”

Conductor and music director: Kevin Sütterlin

Part I

+ “Spark!” – by Jacob Shay

   Commissioned by Kevin Sütterlin and April Ann Brock as a gift to the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra 
+ “Piano Concerto in D minor” by Florence Price

    Artina McCain, piano, guest artist

Part II

+ “Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor” by Gustav Mahler

    Part 1: 
      I. Trauermarsch [Funeral march] 
      II. Stürmisch bewegt, mit größter Vehemenz [Violently agitated. With greatest vehemence.] 
   Part 2: 
      III. Scherzo: Kräftig, nicht zu schnell [Strong, not too fast] 
   Part 3: 
      IV. Adagietto 
      V. Rondo-Finale



– Violin: Yuliya Smead (concertmaster) Justyna Lutow-Resch (associate concertmaster), Catherine Bush, Greg Austin, Bianca Balderama, Jennifer Coopman, Graham Emberton, Erik Leveille, Huy Luu, Randy Manning, Jerad Miller, Alicia Mose, Audrey Nowak,

– Violin II: Danielle Simandl (principal), Angelica D’Costa (assistant principal), Luis Fernandez, Melissa Gurholt, Dorothy Hollenbach, Jessica Jarosz, Sarah Koenigs, Kara McCanna, Amir Rosenbaum, Alexander Smith, Marvin Suson, Shoua Xiong

– Viola: Barbara Beechey (principal), Corrina Albright (assistant principal), Katy Byrd, Jane Bradshaw Finch, Blakeley Menghini, Ann Stephan, Tara Stevenson

– Cello: Laura Kenney Henckel (principal), Charles Stephan (assistant principal),  Jonathan Hodges, Nancy Kaphaem, Stefan Koch, Ina Torres Prada O’Ryan, David Veum, Heather Watney, Carrie Willer

– Bass: Susan Sullivan (principal), Emmett Jackson (assistant principal), Ann Boeckman, Scott Breyer, Mike Henessey, Mark Urness

– Flute: Linda Nielsen Korducki (principal), Beth Kinzel, Suzanne Bunker Jordheim, flute/piccolo, Kortney James, flute/piccolo

– Oboe: Jennifer Hodges Bryan (principal), Suzanne Geofrey, Leslie Outland Michelic, oboe/corA

– Clarinet: Chris Zello (principal), Hakeem Davidson, David Bell, Penny Wilson

– Bassoon: Libby Garrett (principal), Susan Lawrence McCardell, Andrea Clark

– Horn: Bruce Atwell (principal), Kelly Hofman, Dana Sherman, Katherine Ritter, Liz Olson, Andrew Parks, Richard Tremarello

– Trumpet: Michael Henckel (principal), Rand Skelton, Justin Olson, Marty Robinson

– Trombone: Michael Clayville (principal), Roy Fine, Matt Bragstad

– Tuba: Marty Erickson

– Timpani: Paul Ristau

– Percussion: Jim Robl (principal), Scott Elford (assistant principal), Marisol Kuborn, Colin O’Day, Fred Poppe

– Harp: Rebecca Royce


NEXT: “The New York Tenors with FVSO,” Feb. 11.

THE VENUE: Thrivent Financial Hall is the main theater of Fox Cities Performing Arts Center at 400 W. College Ave. in downtown Appleton. The capacity is 2,072. The seating area is in the shape of a horse shoe, with three balconies following the shape. The stage is 60 feet across and 40 feet high. The décor features Veneciano plaster walls with dark-stained cherry wood. In the oval dome ceiling is a 65-foot-long chandelier that is reminiscent of the Art Deco era. The design includes ruby inserts in the opaque cream-colored glass. Flowing along the walls up to the chandelier are parallel metal pipes as if of a musical instrument. Flat walls in the front third of the hall are salmon colored, while red pleated theatrical curtains dominate the rest of the side walls. The white acoustic wing over the stage looks like the underside of a sci-fi spacecraft. The lobby area consists of lots of geometrics, glass and, on the ground level, a feeling of openness and spaciousness. The exterior of the gray building features gentle curves. A large glass skylight is reminiscent of a human eye.

THE NAME: Thrivent Financial has roots in a life insurance company that was chartered in 1902 as Aid Association for Lutherans, based in Appleton. The corporate name has been Thrivent since 2002.