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MENDELSSOHN!

By Thomas Consolo

Join The Ohio Valley Symphony on April 30 for the final concert of the 2010-11 season.

For the finale of its 21st season, the orchestra offers a portrait of composer Felix Mendelssohn. On the program, beginning at 8 p.m. at the Ariel-Ann Carson Dater Performing Arts Centre in downtown Gallipolis, are excerpts from Mendelssohn’s incidental music to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and his beloved violin concerto.

Mendelssohn, who lived from 1809–47, was a child prodigy who went on to be one of the most cosmopolitan composers of his era. In his short life, he wrote symphonies, concertos, oratorios and chamber music famed for their elegance and beautiful melodies. As a performer, he was a pianist of renown, and as a conductor, he helped many young composers and led to a revival of the works of Bach.

He was still only 17 when he scored one of his first great hits, the sparkling overture to Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” He returned to that magical story in 1842 to write more music for a production of the play, which includes the “Wedding March” still used by couples the world over. The OVS, under music director Ray Fowler, performs a suite of the overture and three other movements.

The OVS welcomes violinist Ilya Kaler to the stage of the Ariel’s Morris and Dorothy Haskins Theatre as guest soloist in the concerto, one of the best-known and best-loved works for violin and orchestra. A classic since its debut in 1844, Mendelssohn’s violin concerto earned fame more recently as the piece Jack Benny never quite mastered. The piece features a brooding, romantic opening, a soulful slow movement, and a joyful, bubbly finale. Together, they give the soloist a chance to shine.

The Russian-born Kaler is the only violinist to have won gold medals at the Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and Paganini violin competitions. He earned rave reviews for solo appearances with orchestras around the world, including in Leningrad, Moscow, Montreal, Berlin, Detroit, Baltimore, Seattle and Zurich. His recordings of the Paganini Caprices have been deemed by American Record Guide to be “in a class by themselves.” Kaler is a violin professor at DePaul University in Chicago. He performs on a Giuseppe Guarnerius del Gesu violin, made in 1735, on generous loan from the Stradivari Society of Chicago.

Showcasing the masterworks of orchestral music like Mendelssohn’s is part of the Ohio Valley Symphony’s mission to bring live, professional, orchestral music to the region and to instill a love of music — especially in children — through education and exposure to great music. As part of that commitment, the public is encouraged to attend OVS rehearsals for free at 7-10 p.m. Friday, April 29, and 1-4 p.m. April 30 at the Ariel. Open rehearsals are an excellent way for young and old alike to grow comfortable with symphonic music, and they offer a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse at the preparation of an orchestral performance.

Beginning with April’s Mendelssohn program, concert-goers will have another unique opportunity to make a personal connection with the music, too. That’s when the OVS inaugurates its series of pre-concert talks in the newly-restored Ariel Chamber Theatre. Thomas Consolo, the orchestra’s assistant conductor and program annotator, hosts the casual get-together to help put a more personal face on the night’s music, as well as to answer questions about the program, the OVS or the orchestral experience in general. The talk begins at 7:15 p.m. April 30.

Single tickets to The Ohio Valley Symphony’s “Mendelssohn” cost $22, $20 (senior) and $10 (students). Tickets and more information are available at the Ariel-Ann Carson Dater Performing Arts Centre box office, 428 Second Ave., Gallipolis; by phone, (740) 446-2787 (ARTS); and through the OVS Web site, www.ohiovalleysymphony.org. Further funding for The Ohio Valley Symphony is provided by the Ann Carson Dater Endowment.