The Billings Symphony Orchestra concert sizzled with Latin suave and Russian fantasy Saturday night.
It was an international extravaganza with, works by Russian and Argentine composers and guest performances by Quartango, a multinational band with roots in Canada, and Argentine tango dancers, Fabian Belmonte and Roxana Callegari. But just as jaw-dropping were performances by members of the BSO, featured in the first half of the concert on Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov's "Capriccio Espag-nol" and Sergei Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet."
The stage at the Alberta Bair Theater again stretched its limits with a swelled orchestra, with extra players in the horn and stringed sections, plus the quartet and the tango dancers.
Directed by Anne Harrigan, the orchestra earned its first standing ovation of the evening at the end of the first half. Concertmaster Randy Tracy was showcased in a stunning violin solo in the second movement of Korsakov's "Capriccio Espagnol," lithely bowing the expansive piece. Then the orchestra heated things considerably with selected movements from "Romeo and Juliet," featuring some instruments that don't often get in the limelight, including the tuba and the contra bassoon.
Harrigan explained the wrenching composition about the lovers by saying, "You can feel the heartache."
You could pick out the moment that Romeo stabbed Tybalt in the most dramatic movement and almost hear Romeo's tears fall moments later on Juliet's grave.
The second half got much steamier with the addition of the Canadian quartet and the dancers. Chairs were removed and the orchestra scaled back for the performance of the Argentine dancers, whose feet kicked so high and fast during their performance that it looked as if they weren't attached to their bodies.
Quartango's bassist, Rene Gosselin, explained tango music as being "about women who are very unfaithful and the man is always crying in his soup." In addition to being stellar musicians, the quartet proved to be showmen as well. Never looking at a piece of music during his set, Gosselin twirled his double bass and shook his head, enjoying the music as much as the audience was. Occasionally, he would grab the microphone to tell a story about his band or the players' penchant for tango.
His bandmates, all highly accomplished musicians, also hammed it up during their set with pianist Richard Hunt banging on the bass during their final piece, "Milonga de mis Amores." Douglas Schmidt explained playing his unique instrument, the bandoneon (an accordion-like instrument), as being comparable to "typing at a keyboard with 140 keys," and violinist Charles Etienne Marchand showed a light touch on all six of the arrangements.
An enthusiastic audience made no move to leave or to resume their seats following a lengthy ovation at the close of the second half. And after a minute or two, Quartango returned to the stage, along with the dancers, for an encore piece.
The next BSO concert is the "Broadway Pops," set for March 15 at the ABT.
Contact Jaci Webb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 657-1359.