Friday, November 2, 2007

Review: Richmond Symphony

Nov. 1, Toad’s Place, Richmond

Erin Freeman, the Richmond Symphony’s new associate conductor, has inherited the Kicked Back Classics casual concert series from a string of maestros with highly varied inclinations; but she seems well on her way to making it her own.

Garbed in red and black, accessorizing with a demon’s tail, leading a post-Halloween show in Toad’s Place, a downtown nightclub that generally throbs to rock bands, Freeman proved to be both a genially energetic host and a concert programmer who garnishes fun with substance and subtlety.

Her program of musical "creatures" avoided the obvious, or touched on it unpredictably. Yes, we heard the Dies Irae, the medieval chant for the dead, but as set to the "Night Train" bass line in "Dead Elvis," Michael Daugherty’s wildly inventive homage to the King. Bassoonist Jonathan Friedman, costumed as the Vegas-vintage Presley, fronted an ensemble of violin, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, double-bass and percussion, skittering and sliding through quotations from the Elvis songbook and evocations of the Elvis persona.

The symphony’s strings were both vivid and refined in a suite from Bernard Herrmann’s score for the Alfred Hitchcock classic "Psycho" – complete with a strategic scream, provided by none other than Freeman’s mother – and in François Dompierre’s suavely diabolic tango "Les Beautes du Diable."

Beethoven’s "The Creatures of Prometheus" Overture, a movement from Boccherini’s "La Casa del Diavolo," the "Beauty and the Beast" movement from Ravel’s "Mother Goose" Suite, featuring clarinetist Ralph Skiano and contrabassoonist Matthew Harvell, and Rimsky-Kordakov’s "Flight of the Bumblebee" rounded out the program.

Toad’s Place is a surprisingly agreeable symphonic venue, although its acoustic is on the dry side. Quieter orchestral passages face a pretty formidable obstacle in the blowers of its ventilation system.

The program repeats at 5 p.m. Nov. 4 in the Pavilion of the Science Museum of Virginia, 2500 W. Broad St. in Richmond. Tickets: $17. Details: (804) 788-1212,