by Malcolm R. Willison…….
There was a packed hall at the Tennessee Williams Theatre on College Road for a concert by the renowned South Florida Symphony Orchestra on February 28 First to be heard was a movingly subdued and atmospheric introductory string elegy by contemporary composer Lisa Nardi. It was dedicated to those who lives were lost or injured in the then-recent shooting at the Parkland school.
From there the conductor of the South Florida Symphony, Sabrina María Alfonso, took expressive, sinuous lead of a relaxed “Pastoral” Symphony, the sixth of Beethoven. The strings made their way through the ensemble dances, the thunderstorm’s drums were impressive, and the hunt’s horns did their duty. But this was merely an introduction to the evening’s spectacular second half.
Wisely shifted to post-intermission, the outstanding Canadian-born violinist Lara St. John took the stage to introduce and then lead a smaller but vividly Impressive string ensemble in Antonio Vivaldi’s programmatic rendering through a year of the rural Italian countryside in his so-familiar “Four Seasons.” Ms. St. John was a commanding, towering powerhouse of expression, in swaying gold and black lamé that swept the stage as she tossed her brilliant attack on her antique violin to lead the violins, solemn in their black costumes, the women a vision of ancient Ionic columns in their pleated skirts. To the other side the principal cellist was challenged by Ms. St. John’s leaning into their mid-season duet. The principal violist gave gorgeous tone to her exchanges with Ms. St. John.
Stunned at the Vivaldi’s “Seasons” so brilliantly performed, the audience gave Ms. St. John a call-back standing ovation of more than five minutes, to which she responded with an electric rendition of a Vivaldi solo piece that carried her listeners ecstatically into our endangered 21st century. One sensed that the overflow crowd left the Williams Theater completely and happily wrung out by what it had just heard.