SoundMusic concludes its first season with a rousing coda

Waterford - The defining moment came last for the SoundMusic concert series at Harkness Memorial State Park. As the orchestra played the Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5 for an encore Saturday night, the crowd of about 3,000 cheerfully clapped along in time as the video screens and sound system projected the sights and sounds from the stage across the broad lawn over Long Island Sound. No one raced for the parking lot.

It was the end of the third and final concert in SoundMusic's abbreviated first season, a season to test the waters to see if the outdoor concert tradition established by the now-defunct Summer Music series can be revived. And Saturday, it all worked.

The sound system, a sore point in the opening concert, was upgraded with a new array of precisely targeted loudspeakers. The video crew moved the imagery from conductor to cymbal crash knowingly. The New Haven Symphony Orchestra was first-rate, and Music Director Martin Piecuch kept his "Mostly Mozart" program moving briskly to a thrilling conclusion with Mozart's Symphony No. 41 in C Major, the "Jupiter."

The attendance, double the group's budgeted estimates, proved the audience is still hungry for the picnic-and-a-concert format developed by Summer Music in the 1990s. Perhaps that is why, in many ways, Saturday's concert belonged to Cynde Iverson, bassoon soloist in Mozart's Bassoon Concerto in B Flat and a co-founder of the original Summer Music, along with her husband, the late Peter Sacco, who died at age 59 in 2006.

After performing the concerto with a breath-defying ease and rich sonority, Iverson choked up as she addressed the crowd.

"It's easier for me to play and not be emotional than to talk," she said. After speaking warmly of seeing old friends in the park once again, she tearfully dedicated the night "to my kids, who are my inspiration, and to Peter - who, I'm sure, is here."

The program opened with Tchaikovsky's Orchestral Suite No. 4, "Mozartiana," which recovered from a shaky start to end nicely in its last two sections. The final set of variations showcased the orchestra's talent with a fine solo by its concertmaster, Artemis Simerson, and its star clarinetist, David Shifrin.

The high point of the program (it's hard to imagine a program where it wouldn't be) was the Jupiter symphony. Piecuch attacked the outer movements aggressively, and after a muscular opening allegro, he shaped the long lines and shifting moods of the andante with a sure hand.

The symphony's finale is a singular work, perhaps the most exciting 10 minutes in music, which can appeal to both the most casual listener and to the ardent musicologist dissecting its score for its miraculous counterpoint sleight of hand.

Piecuch pushed a perilous tempo, upping the ante for thrills, and this fine orchestra delivered, meeting his challenge with a sizzling finish.

SoundMusic board chairman John Waller, who deserves a curtain call for this first season, says the group hopes for a five-concert season next year. There are still bills to be paid, and the extras, such as the extensive tech crew, have added up. But, he says, concert audiences have come to expect video these days, a far cry from the start of Summer Music.

"There's no doubt," he said said Saturday, "we wouldn't be here tonight without the nearly 20 years Peter and Cynde put into Summer Music."

Now SoundMusic has hit the ground running, and the audience can only hope it clears the next hurdles.

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