What a heart-warming joy to be totally immersed in masterpieces of early 19th century European musical Romanticism, presented by the Conway Symphony Orchestra, on Tuesday evening, Oct. 23, at the Reynolds Performance Hall on the University of Central Arkansas campus!

Returning after an absence of over nine months, Maestro Israel Getzov resumed his uncanny habit of bringing us just exactly music that leaves us enraptured for days and days following its performance.

By pairing the elegant reverie of Frederic Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the stirring drama and suspense of Ludwig von Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, he performed a master stroke of intuition for our spirits.

Together with the astonishing, superb pianist and guest artist, Jue Wang, Getzov and the orchestra surrounded us with Chopin’s European world of 1830, when France and the rest of Europe were shaking off the trauma of the Napoleonic Wars.

Wang, from Shanghai and a widely performing artist of gaining international stature, seemed the perfect artist to envelop us with the quintessential Chopin of powerful opening martial music, tinges of melancholy and

sparklingly brilliant virtuosic playing.

His playing, while never losing crystal clarity surrounded by the gorgeous string halo of the orchestra, made us often scarcely breathe. He blended his constantly virtuosic technique with a commanding strength of tone and a melancholic nostalgia for spell-binding breathlessness of a moonlit Spring "nocturne".

Chopin’s Francophile love of the many evocative colors of the woodwind instruments, was rewarded by the exceptional solo playing of Holly Williamson, principal bassoon, Andy Oeste principal oboe, David Rousseau principal horn, Kayla Copland principal flute, and Kevin Staggs, principal clarinet.

We have seen and heard with pleasure the growth of the orchestra under Getzov during his years with us, in sound, maturity, and expression, so it was no surprise and with a sense of satisfaction that we felt the supreme confident spirit which the group displayed in the final brilliant sparkle of the Chopin finale.

The composer interspersed native "Krakovian" dance rhythms and melody from his beloved Poland with final reminders of the opening piano theme. A fitting gesture of connection left over from the earliest decade of the 19th century was to prepare us for the grandly integrated musical language of the Beethoven symphony to come after intermission.

Amidst the tumult swirling throughout Austria in 1805, especially in Vienna, which was suffering such pessimism and confusion after being conquered by Napoleon’s Army, Beethoven striving with his indomitable strength of spirit and genius, his capacity for endurance and power of self-assertion under extreme test, simply impelled his "will to victory" in his incomparable Symphony No. 5. And this after the onset of his total deafness.

Continuing our journey from the balance and tradition of musical Classicism – think Mozart – Getzov and the CSO lead us through the heroic triumph of unifying and suave musical expression so characteristic of mid to late 19th century Romanticism by way of this probably most iconic of musical compositions – often commonly and affectionately called "Beethoven’s Fifth". Indeed the famous first four-note motive – short, short, short, long – weaves throughout the entire four movement masterpiece in various guises evoking a wide range of emotions from militaristic power to mysterious drama to suave humanistic assurance of peace.

With the now more mature assurance of the entire orchestra, Getzov is able to convey an almost total capacity for expression.

With the confident skills of the woodwind soloists mentioned above coupled with the triumphant brass of principal trumpet Eric Liu, the orchestra moved from the terrible passion of the first movement in C Minor, through the lush but suspenseful second movement, to the unstoppable stately third movement, and, like an unyielding battlefield force, with the entire trombone section and outstanding piccolo of Samantha Bentley to the utter, exultant victory of the blazing C Major sunshine of the finale.

Each and every member of the Conway Symphony Orchestra can be justly proud of their "life-affirming" energy and spirit.

We look forward with joyful anticipation to the Christmas concert on Saturday, Dec. 1.

Dr. Kay Kraeft of Conway is president of Songs Unlimited Inc., sponsor of the Songs Across the Americas Festivals.