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CactusReview By Jan Stribula
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS TIMES of Danbury, Connecticut

RIDGEFIELD — The Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra performed their last concert of the season on Saturday night at the Ridgefield High School with a program that involved some heavy lifting onstage. But there was enough extra talent on board to make it look almost easy.
About 16 high school juniors and seniors from the Ridgefield Symphony Youth Orchestra joined the RSO in performing the opening piece, “A Night on Bald Mountain.” This piece was performed as originally composed by Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881), not the popularized Rimsky-Korsakov orchestration. Music Director Sidney Rothstein said the evening’s focus would be on orchestration.
While Mussorgsky’s version was a little rough around the edges, “A Night on Bald Mountain” certainly sounded familiar, yet strikingly different. Starting out of the gates galloping at full tilt, the strings were churning with brass and cymbals clashing and the kettledrums stirring up a heady witches brew. The Youth Orchestra musicians blended in nicely with the RSO.
The talented and glamorous Russian pianist Elena Baksht may be young, but she’s definitely no rookie at the keyboard. Her performance of the “Piano Concerto in G Major,” by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), was dazzling. Composed in 1929, this jazzy piece had suggestions of Gershwin, but was a fine demonstration of Ravel’s idiom.
In the exuberant opening allegremente, Baksht and the orchestra were playing cat and mouse with each other delightfully. The serene piano solo opening the second movement was music to float up to heaven by. Deftly handling the lively syncopations in the presto, Baksht concluded the concerto with brilliance and elegance.
After intermission, Rothstein introduced John Patrick, the winner of this year’s Golden Baton Award. Conducting the “Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus,” by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), Patrick seemed to enjoy taking the RSO out for a spin around the block, happily riding with the top down. With a little help from Beethoven, everyone’s hair was blowing in the wind for this spirited overture.
“Pictures at an Exhibition” was originally composed for solo piano by Mussorgsky in 1873, and later colorfully orchestrated by Ravel in 1923. Rothstein demonstrated Ravel’s amazing mastery of choosing groups of instruments having the greatest artistic impact. He compared a few of the opening passages, first with Baksht on piano, then as fully orchestrated. The juxtaposition of arrangements couldn’t have been more effective in demonstrating the incredible range of tonality of the full orchestra, as well as Ravel’s genius.
In “The Old Castle” segment, Ravel made a brilliant choice using a personal favorite instrument, the alto saxophone, smoothly played by Tom Gorin. With its distinctive trumpet fanfare, variations on the Promenade theme showcased different combinations of all sections of the RSO, building to a powerful finale. The brass and wind instruments worked particularly well throughout the piece.
Rothstein said it was good to be back after his illness, and he received a warm welcome from all.