Review by Lois Jackman

It’s clear that going to see the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra is more than just attending a concert— from the pre-concert talk by Maestro Brett Mitchell, to the half-hour long intermission that allowed for ample conversation and beverage drinking, to the shop talk in the aisles by Dow executives, and both a post-performance reception and autograph signing with guest violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn—it’s a full evening!

It’s also clear that this town loves Pitcairn and her famous Red Mendelssohn Stradivarius. And what’s not to love? Even her elegant stage presence makes her a likable performer. As she began the epic Sibelius Violin Concerto, the audience was given the treat of the warmth, clarity and sheer volume of the unparalleled sound the “Red Violin” has to offer. She served both Mendelssohn and Mr. Strad well with a flawless rendition of one of the most well-known and toughest concerti in the repertoire. And the audience showed its appreciation with a lengthy standing ovation.

My only complaint was that Pitcairn seems still a little intimidated by the violin itself. Who wouldn’t be a little cautious with an instrument that is so valuable you have to travel with a body guard? But what I’d really like to hear is the full potential of what the Red Violin is capable of, and just as importantly, what this fine musician is capable of. There is a lot more this pair could say musically if Pitcairn would play with less restraint and honor Felix’s fiddle by letting go and playing with the abandonment of someone whooping it up in an Irish pub.

Consistently proper tuning would have helped the orchestra accompany her and would have made a big difference in the rest of the performance. Led by Music Director Mitchell, a fine and engaging maestro, there were some glorious moments and times when the ensemble really shone. He is truly a quality young conductor and has a bright future ahead … if only he could do something about the distractingly ill-fitting jacket!

Starting out with a respectable rendition of Jennifer Higdon’s moving Blue Cathedral, the orchestra had me ready for a stellar show. The depth of colors and unusual sound bytes make this piece interesting for both its delicacy and passion. This was the orchestra’s best piece of the night.

Although the group had its moments throughout the concert, right to the final notes of Tchaikovsky’s heart-rendingly emotional Sixth Symphony, the intonation problems were a distraction at times. Still, the glory of this piece was well-represented by the orchestra’s effort. One would have to travel to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to hear a finer performance. Since the DSO isn't playing this season, I’ll gladly take one by the SBSO!

Young Interlochen-trained hornist and winner of the Young Musician of the Year Award, Andrew Du Comb also gave a brave performance of the 1st movement of Mozart’s popular horn concerto. Allowing this young talent to have the experience of performing on the stage of the 1,700-seat Temple Theatre speaks to the commitment of this organization to the growth and continuation of classical music in our society. The presence of a diverse audience—the 20-somethings at the bar were particularly encouraging—shows that the group is doing its duty by engaging the youth of Saginaw.

All in all, it’s clear, once again, that this town loves its orchestra and understands the importance of quality music. Kudos to all involved!

Lois Jackman is a professional musician and arranger, as well as an educator and arts advocate from the Greater Detroit area. 

© Lois Jackman, 2011