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Web letter by Jane Henschen: Hearing the Philharmonic live an unprecedented musical experience

With the advent of spring, we are inundated by a multitude of sound heralding the coming of yet another ecological season. However, there are some phenomenal sounds taking place indoors that should be appreciated before the close of quite a different type of season. I’m speaking of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s 2010-11 musical series. For more than 67 years, the Phil has captivated audiences through its superb musical talent. If you’ve not been one of the thousands of people who have been moved by these performances, you are missing out. Sure, we hear music everywhere. We stream it in with our iPods, computers and stereos. But until you have heard the Phil performing live, you have truly have been deprived of an enchanting experience.

By no means does one need to be an expert of music and composition to enjoy the live symphony. The Phil provides all that is necessary to create a comfortable and relaxing time. It doesn’t matter who you are or how much musical knowledge you possess; you are sure to enjoy the live sounds of the symphony. The Phil creates a free handbook called the Prelude, which is given to each guest. The publication is a lovely way to navigate through performances. There is a plethora of information in the Prelude from a basic outline highlighting the performance lineup to very specific information regarding the music, the composers and special guests.

I frequently attend the Phil concerts and still find myself taken aback by the amazing musical journey that encompasses me. With each visit, I find myself feeling a wide range of emotion summoned by the lure of the music. Here with the symphony one doesn’t just listen to the music. One becomes a part of the musical encounter. With its many talented musicians, the symphony sounds are amazing as they range from being barely perceptible one moment to booming with intensity the next. The rhythm of the musicians as they work their instruments is itself a thing of beauty. It is such a fulfilling experience of sight and sound, I find myself eager to return again and again.

A recent performance was no exception to my fantastic experiences with the Phil. The concert was from the Masterworks series and was appropriately titled “From the Shadows.” Indeed, some of the ominous parts of the music mentally took me there into dark shadowy places. The evening began with Beethoven’s overture “Leonore No. 3.” There is a wide range of sounds in this piece, which starts slowly and softly but soon increases in volume and density. According to the Prelude, the overture is a dramatic story of the struggle for human dignity and the lengths one will go through to rescue people from injustice. At the time Beethoven wrote this piece in the early 1800s, operas were focused on heroism and human value. The listener certainly feels this passion as the piece develops. First, the audience is teased with lighthearted sounds that soon escalate to a more foreboding melody. Ominous tones move in and out of the framework of the music. One truly feels in the ardor Beethoven chose to create. Just when you feel as if the dreariness of this music will completely encompass you, Beethoven surprises the listener to the delightful sound of a trumpet solo. The effect of the trumpet is astonishing because the melody is not coming from the stage at all, but from the lobby behind the audience. Beethoven masterfully designed this piece for the solo to be set apart from the stage. The effect of this trumpet being heard but not seen is both mystifying and unforgettable.

Moving well more than a century after that of Beethoven, the second piece of the evening was “Cello Concerto” by Nikolay Mayakovski. Again, I was grateful for my program guide, as it helped me to understand this composer and the melancholy I felt in this concerto. A native of Russia, Myaskovski composed this music around the dark period of time when Hitler was moving his armies about the countryside. The melody definitely reflects the range of emotion felt during this period of history. I was actually shocked by the magnitude of passion as I watched the musicians forcefully pluck the strings of their instruments.

To add to the Myaskovski masterpiece, the Phil brought to the stage world-renowned cello player Amit Peled. The New York Times has described Peled’s playing as having “a glowing tone, a seductive timbre and an emotionally pointed approach.” I would have to agree, because it was breathtaking to see him attack his instrument in such a way as to evoke deep feelings.

At this point of the program, I was ready to stretch my legs and mingle with friends. The intermission is a wonderful way to get to know the season ticket holders next to you and touch base with friends seated in other areas. There always seems to be a variety of people with whom to talk. People from all walks of life find the atmosphere warm and comfortable. The historical Embassy Theatre is such a beautiful setting, and we are blessed to have such a functioning landmark in our city. The lobby is a great place to go for refreshments, including a variety of drinks such as water, pop, wine and beer. There are also light snacks available for purchase.

After the intermission, I was ready to settle in for my favorite part of the evening. The orchestra performed Brahms’ “Symphony No.1,” which is laid out in four movements. The Prelude clearly highlights the details surrounding Brahms’ piece. Once again we find the shadowy theme of the night being carried out in the music with darkish tones. The piece starts off with a tension that is actually palpable. The thick heavy melody does give way to some amazing talent through the soloists, Sandra Stimson, principal oboe, and Michael Lewellen, principal horn. I was completely enthralled with the sounds of the timpani. The kettledrums added to the stormy state of the evening. There is so much mystery and emotion in Brahms’ piece as it weaves through the shadows of sound.

This was my interpretation of the evening performance. However, there are as many musical experiences as there are people in the world. I would encourage everyone to take the time to enjoy the gift of our talented Fort Wayne Philharmonic and to be prepared to be swept away with the beauty of the musical movements. It’s great that the Phil provides a variety of venues in which to enjoy their music, including the Arts United Center, Foellinger Theater, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, IPFW Auer Performance Hall and the Fort Wayne United Methodist Church. I attended the Masterworks series at the Embassy Theatre. However, there are several other series that are available for your pleasure including the pops, signature, Freimann, family and youth symphony. Their website,, has a wealth of information about the scheduling and types of programs as well as other nuggets of information, including musical quotes of the day. I have found their website not only to be a wealth of information, but also a source of inspiration. Spending some time with the Phil is an enriching experience and in my opinion some of the best entertainment in town.


Fort Wayne