With the sun shining bright and the waning winter months feeling more like spring, it seemed like all of Astoria was out on the streets this past Sunday. Still, the Astoria Symphony Orchestra enticed some of the locals indoors, delighting us with Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven.

Silas Nathaniel Huff, © Adam Jason
Silas Nathaniel Huff,
© Adam Jason

Hosted by the Federation of Chian Societies, which typically serves as a community center for Astoria’s Greek community, the Federation seemed like an odd spot to host a classical music concert. The inside was lavishly decorated; a crystal chandelier hung from the middle of the ceiling, there was an ornate wooden bar off to the right of the stage, and the floor was covered in a bold floral carpet. Then there was the orchestra: rather than atop a stage, they sat on the same level as the audience. This was a unique venue and layout for a concert, and Maestro Silas Nathaniel Huff made the most of it. After introducing the Astoria Symphony Orchestra, he laughed about the space, admitting that he wasn’t sure how the acoustics would stack up, but we were all welcome to a complimentary glass of wine at intermission. Now that certainly is a good use of space.

All jokes aside, the moment the theme from Johannes Brahms’ Variation on a Theme by Haydn rang out, it was clear that the venue was a great space for classical music. The woodwinds and horns were crisp and clean; and when the rest of the orchestra joined in, the sound resonated across the hall.

Sitting so close to the musicians utterly transformed the concert experience. Rather than admiring the group from afar, the concert was immediately more engaging. In fact, the old-fashioned ambience of the Federation made the concert feel more like a private salon than a modern-day concert. At times the closeness of it all felt a bit distracting, but overall, the effect was enchanting.

In Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, the Astoria Symphony Orchestra was joined by cellist Andrew Janns. A nuanced and virtuosic performer, Janns carefully performed all of the intricate details adorning Tchaikovsky’s main themes. Whether it was with a quick chromatic scale, repeated trills in the highest register, or a quick yet complicated solo, Janns was a force to be reckoned with. In Rococo art and music, flourishes and decorations define the style, and Janns brought every tiny detail to life.

The orchestra itself should not be overlooked. Throughout Tchaikovsky’s Variations, the Astoria Symphony Orchestra provided subtle yet effective accompaniment. From a ringing melody in the woodwinds and strings to a simple walking bass line, the orchestra was perfectly attuned with Jann's performance.

After the interval (glass of wine in hand), the Astoria Symphony Orchestra performed Ludwig van Beethoven's beloved Symphony no. 6 in, ‘Pastoral’. Immediately luring us into Beethoven's rich melodies, the countryside themes were unmistakable. Although Beethoven himself warns us not to take the pastoral theme too literally, claiming that ‘all “painting” in instrumental music will fail,’ the Astoria Symphony conjured up such bucolic music that it was hard not to imagine birdsongs, a bubbling brook and playful peasant dances.

A real tribute to their orchestra, the flutes, piccolos, oboes and clarinets acted out individual themes while the ensemble collectively painted a picturesque image of the countryside. In the second movement, flute, oboe and clarinet called out to each other, like birds across an expansive field; in the third movement, the Scherzo, Maestro Huff had a great command of the quick tempo, creating a cheerful and spirited dance. Finally towards the end of the symphony, the timpani thunderously roared and the Astoria Symphony sounded like an orchestra twice its size. For a brief few bars, the music was ferocious, with racing scales sounding more like sheets of rain. Just as quickly as the fiery storm began, the music dropped off into a gentle melody and the Astoria Symphony returned to a pastoral calm. It was the perfect end to a lazy Sunday afternoon.

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