With major league orchestras from Lucerne, Halle and Moscow waiting in the wings, the hometown Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá (OFB) proved equally big-league as they launched the Teatro Mayor Julio Mario Santo Domingo's Third International Music Festival: Bogotá es la Rusia Romántica.

In Bogotá they take "International" seriously. In addition to the OFB, the opening concert featured a French conductor and a Ukrainian born Australian pianist, along with two of the city's finest choruses, and arguably the world's greatest audiences. The combination proved an irresistible introduction to the 50 concerts and 1 ballet presented in 10 locations across the Colombian capital, featuring 19 composers, 8 orchestras, 7 conductors, 3 choruses, 4 string quartets, 3 piano trios, and 19 soloists.

From the opening bars of Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto Thursday night, it was clear that conductor Patrick Fournillier, soloist Alexander Gavrylyuk and the Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá, Colombia's leading orchestra and this year celebrating its 50th anniversary, were in total agreement about their approach: moderately fast, flowing organically, expressing the beauty and the drama as if they were deeply in love with Rachmaninov and would go with him anywhere. With their unusually expressive strings and outstanding first-chair winds, including amazing contributions from French horns, oboes and bassons, they put down smooth swathes of audiophile fabric for Gavrylyuk to respond to and reflect on with a similarly comfortable spontaneity which hit a sweet spot just before the end of the first cadenza and never looked back. 

At the end, when the audience went wild, their excitement ratcheted up an additional notch when Gavrylyuk encored a almost obsessively engaged, hair-raising performance of Rachmaninov's arrangement of Mendelssohn's Wedding March in which all of the massive technical difficulties were reduced to child's play, an offering of love itself studded like jewels with brief intimacies and heart-breaking colors.

After a waltz from Eugene Onegin that for once actually danced, their magical performance of Borodin's Polovtsian Dances, in which they were joined by Bogotá's Sociedad Coral Santa Cecilia and Coro Filarmónico Juvenil handling the Russian texts with impressive ease bringing a transcendent sensuality to the proceedings, rhythmic cheers and roars from the audience brought Fournillier and his forces back for the Finale from Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony. Intended as a preview of their complete performance scheduled for the following day, the vitality, intensity and authentic joy of the playing may explain why 70 percent of the OFB's regular season audience is between 17 and 27.   

As has been the custom at the Teatro's 2013 and 2015 festivals, the orchestra and the audience bonded from the moment the orchestra began walking on stage. It was real and palpable, and it continued throughout every moment of the entire concert. It had nothing to do with pre-concert lectures or elaborate music appreciation outreach. It had everything to do with the love of the city for music. Mark Pullinger described this phenomenon two years ago during the Teatro Mayor's Bogotá es Mozart festival, "The response of the audiences to the music-making has been phenomenal. They listen carefully and applaud loudly. I’ve never experienced so many encores – genuine encores, nothing prepared, just a repeat of perhaps a final movement – in such a short span."

Media coverage and reach was also uniquely Bogotán: the dozen classical music critics and journalists from around the world were inspired by the presence of El Espectador's Manuel Drezner, who began reviewing legendary musicians like Adolf Busch and Rudolf Serkin on their annual visits to Bogotá nearly 70 years ago when he was just a kid. 

One caveat only: the Russian composers did not include all of the 49 Danny Kaye rattled off–in 38 seconds–in his show-stopping patter song, "Tschaikowsky," from the Kurt Weill/Irving Berlin 1941 Broadway show, Lady in the Dark. Forgiving the quaint transliterations, where were, among others, Akimenko, Korestchenko, Klenowsky, Nowakofski, Malichevsky, Sapelnikoff, Dimitrieff, Kryjanowsky, Rebikoff, Zolotareff, Tiomkin and Dukelsky, Vasillenko, Karganov, Sokoloff and Kopyloff, Klenowsky, and Dargomyzski?