The first of the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra's concerts played to a full Gaillard Municipal Auditorium on Monday evening with a special choice of works that showcase the power and color of a large orchestra.
Emmanuel Villaume conducted first Richard Strauss' epic tone poem "Also sprach Zarathustra" with its orchestration for 110 instruments. The opening sequence became familiar generally, resulting from use in Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film "2001: A Space Odyssey." Villaume's young orchestral members sounded born to play this technically demanding composition. Villaume drew expertly the interesting and intense elements of the score.
Maintaining the large orchestral size, Villaume presented a lively overture to Carol Maria von Weber's opera "Die Freischuetz." The sound quality of the large amount of strings was breathtaking.
Johann Strauss II's overture to his light opera "Die Fledermaus" gave Villaume a chance to lighten up matters, both with the orchestral playing and on the podium. He became more animated than earlier in the evening.
Villaume closed with "La Valse" by Maurice Ravel, one of the great orchestrators of the 20th century. This piece, a tribute to Vienna, is another workout for orchestral players. With its whirling dance fantasy re-created so effectively, it became a tribute to the conductor and the players.
After a standing ovation, Villaume returned to the stage several times and offered an encore. Johann Strauss I's "Radetsky March" was great fun, with Villaume also conducting the audience's required rhythmic clapping. After the end of this festival, Villaume is resigning and will be sorely missed and hard to replace.