Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Fox Valley Symphony season finale features its own

Critic At Large
Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra_3926457379195866158

APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – Images from the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra’s “Grand Finale” concert Saturday night:

Violinist Yuliya Smead stands with her instrument tucked under her chin with no other means of support. It is as if the violin is an extension of her body, another limb. While perhaps a habit for her, the fused-instrument look is distinctive as part of a concert setting. Smead holds the position for a few seconds. She is transforming, climbing into a zone of concentration before cliff-diving into a churning sea of notes of a swirling concerto.

Trumpeter Michael Henckel stands beaming after his solo performance, surrounded by three female members of his family from the orchestra. The scene is warmth and happiness and huggie-ness and achievement and hoorah in a nutshell. Not many families anyplace can share such a scene in a community’s pride-and-joy concert hall, such as is the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.

For Saturday’s concert, conductor/music director Brian Groner took the opportunity to feature two of the orchestra’s own in the solo spotlight. And then the orchestra did what all good orchestras do to end a season – let go with a flashy final piece.



Part I

“Cosi fan tutte, K588: Overture” – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

“Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Opus 26” – Max Bruch

 Yuliya Smead, violin

    Allegro moderato


   Finale: Allegro energico

Part II

“Trumpet Concerto in D major, TWV 51:D7”—Georg Philipp Telemann

Michael Henckel, trumpet





“Les Preludes, S. 97, Symphonic Poem No. 3” – Franz Liszt


Yuliya Smead stepped out from her normal, dressy spot as concertmaster with the Fox Valley Symphony. Other orchestras in the region know her well, too, as a player or a guest artist. In her concertmaster role, Smead often is called on to deliver special, colorful and usually brief solo passages. In the Max Bruch concerto, the focus was entirely on her. She played from memory as she assuredly swept through the work’s rich romanticism and sprightly grand-ball aura (and a whole lot more). In the opening melancholy passages, the audience was hushed in intent listening – all ears zeroing in on what a favorite player was doing (quite well). Smead dressed up even more than usual for the occasion in a long gown of dark red lamé, with bare shoulders and spaghetti straps. As she played, her body bobbed with the bounce of the music, as if a coil of a spring. Her playing neared the pristine.

Michael Henckel stepped out from his normal spot as principal trumpet with the orchestra. The Georg Philipp Telemann work set him to the task of, generally, delivering bright, intense sprints in three of four movements. One movement provided a break for him as the orchestra offered an embracing interlude. Henckel would probably like the first movement back because it dusted him up a bit, but he showed his mustard starting with the glorious second movement and then with the high-stepping forth. He played from sheet music. Henckel, too, dressed up for the occasion – black suit, black/white bow tie and, particularly vividly, orange shirt. If a snapshot were taken at the end with all the Henckels, it would stand out in a family photo album.

The orchestra opened and closed the concert with fine playing of two a-live works.

In Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s sometimes-scampering “Cosi fan tutte” overture, the sound was that of a solid body of players.

Franz Liszt’s “poem” spoke in varietal ways as it connected dark and haunting with exciting with pastoral with whirlwind with serene with the big whoop dee do splashy bombastic (in an exciting way) crescendo to send everybody away pumped.

One more glimpse from the evening. After the Henckels’ moment, Groner took time out to tell a little tale. It was of a substitute player whose instrument broke and was in need of immediate repair because of concert needs. Musicians in the orchestra sprung to helpful action. Groner said the visiting player said, “I never experienced an orchestra more like family than this one.”

THE VENUE: Thrivent Financial Hall is the main theater of Fox Cities Performing Arts Center on College Avenue in downtown Appleton. The maximum capacity is 2,072, though reduced for orchestra concerts as the playing area is placed more out into the hall. For orchestra concerts, three acoustical clouds are deployed above the stage. The seating area is in the shape of a horseshoe, 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.

Because I review a broad range of performances, professional and amateur, and because of the tremendous range of production budgets, I have decided to forego putting star ratings on performances. You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air segments on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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