Sewell departs with flourish

The Wichita Symphony presented its final classical concert of the season Sunday afternoon at Century II Concert Hall. The program also marked the conclusion of Andrew Sewell's tenure as music director, a post he held since 2000.

The concert began with Haydn's Military Symphony, so named for his use of a battery of percussion instruments typical of a Turkish military band. An inventive and prolific composer with a keen wit, Haydn was noted for weaving surprising elements into his works.

The orchestra's percussionists made the most of their duties, rendering their parts with flourish yet remaining in fine balance with the rest of the ensemble.

While the sense of pitch could have been more consistent throughout the orchestra, the performance was enjoyable and provided a pleasant contrast in its effervescence to the far weightier Brahms Requiem that followed.

Where Haydn was quick and facile, Brahms was slow and methodical. Many of his contemporaries condemned Brahms as old-fashioned and phlegmatic, but through a reverent and careful approach to composing, he produced numerous substantial works that have become staples of the classical repertoire.

In creating his Requiem, Brahms departed from the traditional structure based on the Latin funeral Mass; he sought to compose a more universal requiem for all mankind, carefully selecting texts from the Lutheran bible.

The Requiem is the largest piece that Brahms ever wrote, and the symphony's performance was not wanting for might. Joining the symphony in presenting a powerful wall of glorious sound was the Wichita Symphony Orchestra Chorus.

The chorus's diction could have been stronger; consonants did not project clearly to the back of the concert hall. But the large chorus permitted the orchestra to play robustly with no risk of obscuring the chorus's role in the performance. Soloists Michelle Areyzaga, soprano, and Thomas Hall, baritone, possess fine technique and performed with ease, power and finesse.

There were many moments of fine orchestral playing. In the sixth movement the trombones and tuba played particularly beautifully. In the final movement, however, the winds were too loud to convey the subtlety of the score.

As this season closes it is exciting to contemplate the orchestra's future with new music director Daniel Hege taking up the baton next fall. As Sewell remarked in his parting comments to the audience, "Live music is alive and well in Wichita."