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AFTER 115 YEARS, DVORAK CONCERTO GETS REGIONAL DEBUT

By Thomas Consolo

It was a busy year in 1895: In New York City, Antonin Dvorak put the finishing touches on his cello concerto. In Gallipolis, ground was broken for the Ariel Opera House. Fast forward 115 years, and the two finally get to meet.

Dvorak’s concerto, the biggest blockbuster of the solo cello repertoire, receives its regional premiere Nov. 6 as the centerpiece of an all-Dvorak program by the Ohio Valley Symphony. OVS music director Ray Fowler conducts the 8 p.m. performance at the Ariel-Ann Carson Dater Performing Arts Centre in Gallipolis. Joseph Johnson takes on the challenge of the concerto as guest soloist.

The concert is the orchestra’s “home opener,” since restoration construction at the Ariel made it unavailable in October.

Dvorak is an audience favorite thanks to his seemingly bottomless supply of beautiful melodies. The United States has a special soft spot for his music thanks to the masterpieces — like the “New World” symphony and the “American” string quartet — he wrote during his three years here. The cello concerto was the last major work completed before Dvorak moved back to his native Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic), and it shows the composer at the height of his powers. It requires the same mastery of the cellists who play it.

Fowler loves Dvorak’s music, too, but he said he didn’t set out to build an all-Dvorak program. He said the rest of the evening — movements from the Serenade for Strings and from the two sets of Slavonic Dances — fell together naturally around the concerto and Johnson.

Finding Johnson, former principal cellist of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and now in his first season as principal of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, was a lucky accident for Fowler. The conductor said he heard of Johnson because he had worked with a violinist whose playing Fowler likes and respects. Of the cellist, he said, “His playing is so very, very solid.”

A graduate of the Eastman School of Music, Johnson earned his master’s degree from Northwestern University. In addition to his Toronto position, he is principal of the Sante Fe Opera orchestra. Johnson recently completed a special recording project called the Cello Collection. Published in three volumes, it presents cello literature appropriate for recitals featuring companion recordings by Johnson.

November’s portrait of Dvorak reflects the OVS mission to bring great music played by great artists to southeast Ohio — all while making orchestral music easy to love. The public is encouraged to attend OVS rehearsals for free at 7-10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 5, and 1-4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 6. Open rehearsals are an excellent way for young and old alike to grow comfortable with symphonic music. They’re also a great glimpse behind the scenes at what goes into preparing an orchestral performance.

Single tickets to the Ohio Valley Symphony’s all-Dvorak night are $22, $20 (senior) and $10 (students) and are available through the Ariel-Ann Carson Dater Performing Arts Centre box office, 428 Second Ave., Gallipolis, Ohio. Subscriptions to all four remaining 2010-11 OVS concerts also are still available. For more information, visit the OVS Web site, www.ohiovalleysymphony.org, or call (740) 446-2787 (ARTS).

Further funding for the Ohio Valley Symphony is provided by the Ann Carson Dater Endowment.