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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Energy charges ‘Winter’ classical concert in Appleton PAC

Critic At Large

Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra

Concert image.


The Fox Valley now has a fanfare of its own. How cool is that?

Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” is instantly recognized in America. The beloved work arrives slowly and gracefully proceeds.

Composed by Dan Perttu, “Fox Valley Fanfare” bustles. In just under three minutes, it scurries and scampers on energetic lines. The aura, whether through brass or strings, is of vigor, of industriousness, of progress, of the future, of success.

The work is quite agreeable. It seems to be telling a story, that something large and impressive is happening.

“Fox Valley Fanfare” received its world premiere Saturday night to open a concert by the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra in Thrivent Financial Hall of Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.

Music director and conductor Kevin F.E. Sütterlin told the audience the fanfare was commissioned by him and “my better half.”

Not that anybody asked, but I can envision a dual tradition for the orchestra: In every first concert of the season, start with the traditional “The Star-Spangled Banner” and follow that with “Fox Valley Fanfare.” How many orchestras in the world can do that?

Saturday’s concert was titled “Winter.” Reading the calendar, that is 100 percent accurate. Considering what transpired, “Octane” is more apt.

All the works had some sort of spark.

A work by Felix Mendelssohn’s sister, Fanny, was presented as part of Kevin Sütterlin’s mission to “give voice to historically underrepresented” composers. Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel’s overture is a life-affirming work. Its bright and genial nature grew under Kevin Sütterlin’s guidance, closing with his sweeping, enthusiastic flourish.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was represented in his dynamic “Coronation” Mass with newVoices choir adding robustness and four guest soloists providing color, notably the gliding lines of the dominant soloist, soprano Esteli Gomez.

The chorus impressed, especially in the crisp power of the opening notes of the first two movements.

Side note: Concert halls have individual characteristics. For orchestra concerts in Thrivent Financial Hall, 20 wood panels are deployed behind the performers – the better to propel the sound into the hall. On this night, seated where I was – level 3, seat 303 – I could pick out the voice of the bass in the last row of the risers in front of the 11th panel from the right. I can name him – Kyle S. Brauer – because I have seen him in musical theater and other performances in the Fox Valley, and I know his voice. It was like his voice – which is right-on strong – was aimed at that seat. The voices of other choir members and the soloists went into the hall.

To open the second half, Kevin Sütterlin personalized the evening with background on himself and how the work to follow was important to him. He spoke of arriving in the United States from Germany in 2012 to pursue his doctorate in a seemingly unlikely place for such a thing, Memphis, Tennessee. The city is active in classical music, too, and hearing the professional Iris Orchestra perform Robert Schumann’s “Renish” symphony and its expressions of joy helped him “truly understand why we do what we do up here.”

And so he led the polished musicians through five moments of muscular adventure, a feeling of riding ocean waves on a sunny day, pastoral peace, a dark and doomly presence and festive limberness that races to the end. Kevin Sütterlin has a distinctive way of closing some movements – slowly closing his right hand as the notes of passage near the end, and then opening his hand in a flash, signaling stop. It worked every time – the orchestra stopping on a dime – Saturday night.


Program: “Winter”

Music director and conductor: Kevin F.E. Sütterlin

Part I

+ “Fox Valley Fanfare,” Daniel Perttu – World Premiere

+ “Overture in C,” Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel

+ “Mass, K. 317, C major (‘Coronation’),” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart






   Agnus Dei

       With newVoices, directed by Phillip A. Swan

        Guest soloists:

        Esteli Gomez, soprano

        Holly Janz, lyric mezzo-soprano

        Steven Paul Spears, tenor

        Daniel Greco, baritone

Part II

+ “Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 97 (‘Rhenish’),” Robert Schumann


   Scherzo: Sehr mäßig

   Nicht schnell




NEXT: “The New York Tenors,” March 14.

THE VENUE: Thrivent Financial Hall is the main theater of Fox Cities Performing Arts Center on College Avenue 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.

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