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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Music’s fine virtually from Appleton orchestra players

Critic At Large

Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra

Series logo.

APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – This Saturday, Oct. 24, the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra wanted to open its season with a live, in-person performance of five works in Thrivent Family Hall of Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. That plan was wiped out by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the orchestra – – has been keeping its presence known on the Internet with a variety of projects.

Of a formal nature is the “On the Town Concert Series,” featuring musicians from the orchestra. A video of the initial performance is available on the orchestra’s Facebook site.

Indeed, the musicians go “on the town,” playing in various locations.

Here is a look at what’s offered, chronologically:

Screenshot at church.

+ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: “Flute Quartet in D major, K. 285, Allegro.”

The performance takes place in a church. In the background are a stone wall and an altar with a crucifix. Dressed in concert black clothing, the four seated musicians wear masks and are distanced a little farther than usual for a string quartet.

The musicians:

Yuliya Smead, violin
Justyna Resch, violin
Barbara Beechey, viola
Laura Kenney Henckel, cello

The performance:

The music and playing are immediately bright and vigorous. The sound is strong with the acoustics of the venue resonant.  

The flow is smooth and collaboration tight.

While this is a “Flute Quartet,” Yuliya Smead, the orchestra’s concertmaster, takes the lead in playing with zest the flute part on violin.

Screenshot of duo.

+ Ludwig van Beethoven: “Duo #2, WoO 27 for Clarinet and Bassoon.”
Movement 1 Allegro affettuoso
Movement 2 Aria – Larghetto
Movement 3 Rondo – Allegretto moderato

The performance takes place with the two musicians in separate locations, the bassoonist perhaps in an acoustical room and the clarinetist at home. The viewing of the musicians is up close, much closer than in a live performance in a hall. The players drip concentration because of the closeness.

The musicians:

Chris Zello, clarinet
Cody Hunter, bassoon

The performance:

This is a quirky: While the bassoonist is seen at the left and the clarinetist at the right, I heard their sounds on opposite sides in my headphones. So I turned my headphones around to match the seeing/hearing.

In the opening movement, the music is a study of contrasts, the bassoon’s lower register and the clarinet’s upper. They seem playful together.

In the second movement, the tempo slows as the players finesse their varied shadings.

In the third movement, the tempo is jaunty, like a lively dance and a bit mischievous.

Overall, Chris Zello and Cody Hunter display great teamwork – thanks in part to technology and their skill.

Screenshot at park.

+ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: “String Quartet No. 6 in B flat major, K. 159, Allegro.”

The performance takes place outdoors at the Pierce Park pavilion in Appleton. In the background are arches of the pavilion. The “stage” floor is concrete. Dressed in concert black clothing, the players perform with no masks, and two wear dark glasses because of the sunlight. Seated on folding chairs, the musicians are distanced a little farther than usual for a string quartet.

The musicians:

Yuliya Smead, violin
Justyna Resch, violin
Barbara Beechey, viola
Laura Kenney Henckel, cello

The performance:

The music opens with a whirling dash, the settles into a regal give and take can feel the opulence of a court. This is a lively and vigorous piece.

Sometimes a breeze can be heard blowing on the microphone.

Clearly, the quartet knows what it is doing. The playing is crisp and cohesive.


Overall, the playing time is 19 minutes for the three pieces.

The production is straightforward – printed introduction of the piece, performance, next piece. Sponsors are thanked at the end.

The project is imaginative and shows the desire of the players and the organization to remain viable in challenging times. Music has charms to soothe the savage beast? Maybe not “soothe” but temporarily set aside the current beast.

Videos of other musical endeavors are at the orchestra’s Facebook site.

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

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