Review: Grace Fong and the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra

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Clutching the bench as if needing to force herself not to continue playing. Staring down the keys as if daring them to work on their own. Listening intently to the other players during the brief downtime in Schumann's "Concerto in A Minor for Piano and Orchestra." Pianist Grace Fong brought an immediacy and drama to center stage during her guest appearance with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra for its season-opening concert Oct. 1.

In a bigger hall, such intensity might seem like an effort to engage those in the highest reaches of the balcony, but in the intimate Basile Theatre at the Indiana History Center, it felt passionately honest.

Opening the program was Samuel Barber's "Knoxville: Summer of 1915," with text taken from James Agee's "A Death in the Family." It's a work–both on the page and in the concert hall–that always brings up intense emotion for me and it was glorious to hear it played by such accomplished musicians. Leah Crane's lovely soprano was focused more on sound than the clarity of the words, but was effective nonetheless.

In the recording of the piece that I know best–featuring Dawn Upshaw–the vocals are the focus. Here, the ICO instrumentalists made the piece whisper and soar, evoking the innocence of youth and the knowledge that perspective brings. 

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