Young cellist Joshua Roman turned in a dutiful performance of Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor tonight at the Hult Center to help conductor Danail Rachev and the orchestra open the 51st season for the Eugene Symphony. Truth be told, the concerto was better than dutiful; it was lovely and moving. But then, amid thundering applause, he came back for an encore to play a brief virtuosic solo — it probably does have a name, but I didn’t catch it — that had him playing the upright cello like a guitar. (Update Friday: It’s called “Julie-O” and it’s by Mark Summer, original cellist and co-founder of Turtle Island String Quartet.)
Roman strummed and plucked and fretted and pulled the sound of Spanish guitar out of the instrument, with a whiff or two of American blues, before switching to the bow again and delivering a lush, lyrical melody that could pass for the sound track from a Ken Burns film. The audience went wild, and a friend leaned over and said, “He played the Schumann for his parents. He’s playing this for himself!”
It was a fun evening all around. Rachev, who is leaving the orchestra after this season wraps up, opened the concert with a Passacaglia by Anton Webern that started off sounding like startled cats and then grew and grew into a clanging, clamorous climax. The Schumann filled out the first half of the program, which wrapped up after intermission with Johannes Brahms’ fourth symphony, a big, warm, rich piece with rousing Beethovenish endings to three of its four movements.
Tonight’s crowd seemed to have more than the usual opening-night energy. That may be in part because it’s Rachev’s final season, and the orchestra — following its usual practice of the past two decades, is bringing in three finalists for the job of music director and conductor to play regular subscription concerts this season. They were chosen from about 250 applicants from more than 40 countries around the globe — yes, the Eugene Symphony’s reputation is that big.
Those three finalists are:
- Dina Gilbert, assistant conductor of the Orchestre symphonique de Montreal in Canada. She’ll conduct on Dec. 8.
- Ryan McAdmas, a symphonic, opera and new music conductor who previously worked as apprentice conductor to the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic. He’ll conduct on Jan. 26.
- Francesco Lecce-Chong, assistant conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Music Director of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra. He’ll conduct on March 16.