The atmosphere inside the Tivoli Theatre was electric with excitement on Saturday night. After waiting two years to find a new conductor, Chattanooga Symphony patrons were eager to glimpse their new maestra in action.
Soon after 8 p.m., Kayoko Dan, dressed in black and sporting a medium ponytail, mounted the podium and raised her baton. A new era had begun.
Holding previous posts in Arizona and Kentucky, this is the Dan's first turn at the helm of a professional orchestra.
Her all-Romantic program opened with the first of two Russian caprices: Rimsky-Korsakov's "Capriccio Espagnol" (Op 34), composed in five sections and played without pause. The composer carefully employed various instruments like a painter forming a delicate palette, featuring many of the symphony's key players.
Dan conducted the ensemble with large, clear, graceful gestures and elicited an unusually full, rich sound from the group. Although the tempo may have been a bit tame and the brass slightly underpowered, the group's intonation was spot-on and its ensemble was superb.
The second caprice, Tchaikovsky's "Capriccio Italien" (Op 45), was inspired by a Roman carnival, complete with opening fanfare the composer heard coming from an army barracks next to his hotel.
One catchy melody chases another until concluding with a rollicking tarantella, a maniacal dance believed to result from the spider's bite. Again Dan drew extraordinary beauty from her strings that included a few simply magical moments.
In the night's second half, Dan tackled Dvorak's "Symphony No. 8 in G Major" (Op 88), producing glowing, noble results with amazing work from the strings and impressive work from the low brass.
The second movement was nothing less than first-rate music-making, with a beautifully crafted reading, while the third movement shone like a jewel, reflecting its Slavic melancholy.
The finale was the expected barn-burner and brought the audience to its feet.
Dan, just 33, appears to have brought out the best of the players individually and as a group. The string sound was particularly rich, and the overall ensemble was unmatched.
Although she didn't drive her players in a few spots where she might have pushed for more, Kayoko Dan has scored a triumph in her first time as music director and conductor. No doubt this will be the first of many more to come.
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