The Washington area has a new venue for classical music. The elegant and modern Capital Room 1 is nestled in the triangle bounded by the Ring Road, Dulles Toll Road and Route 123 in Tysons, Virginia. On Saturday evening, the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra, returning to the show for the first time since the start of the pandemic, named the venue’s main auditorium, a 1,600-seat hall that will host Broadway productions, comedies and live performances. local groups, including the National Philharmonic and the Virginia Chamber Orchestra.
Access by car was easy, with ample parking, and the McLean tube station on the new Silver Line is a short distance away. Even though it was like a ghost town at street level, on the roof of the resort is an open-air green space called The Perch. In the hours leading up to the show, it was very crowded, eating and drinking at two restaurants, listening to live music in an amphitheater and letting the kids run around, all eleven floors above the ground.
Conductor Christopher Zimmerman described the program as centered around rhythm and dance, musical works celebrating the return to something like normal after a year and a half of listening online. Audience size was limited to allow social distancing, and proof of Covid vaccination was required to enter the building. The audience sang with the traditional season opening rendition of the national anthem, the sound invariably muffled by their masks.
The opening work, Suite n ° 1 from Manuel de Falla’s ballet The tricorn, had a strong trumpet fanfare in “Introduction”. The dance rhythms of the other four movements weren’t always perfectly coordinated, but Zimmerman’s crisp gestures kept the whole thing on track. The sound of the strings was often quite fine, among the violins and especially the violas, but there were beautiful solos of bassoon, flute and oboe.
Balances performed best in Camille Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No.1, with Zimmerman helping to create a comfortable sound envelope for his soloist, Amit Peled. The cellist was clearly projecting his sound into the opening bursts of the first section, with a creamy tone over the high-pitched lyrical passages on the A’s string and fierce double stops.
The strings danced delicately in their serenading introduction in the second section, with Peled hovering over a legato dulcet, adding resonant bass notes in the transition to the finale. At a breakneck pace skillfully managed by Zimmerman, Peled exploded through delicate sixteenth note licks, adding a poignant gloom to the wailing sections. Minor weaknesses appeared here and there in the accompaniment, but overall it was a powerful interpretation.
At the start of the second half, Zimmerman presented a piece that was not on the program. He took the piano in his own arrangement of the Geistliches lied by Johannes Brahms, with four principal string instrumentalists taking the choral parts of this magnificent motet (“Laß dich nur nichts nicht dauren mit Trauren”). Dedicating this beautiful prayer to the 700,000 victims of the pandemic, Zimmerman asked for silence at his conclusion, creating a quasi-liturgical moment.
It was a bit of a shock to step up a gear in Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, the work Wagner called the “apotheosis of dance” for its “blissful insolence of joy”. Zimmerman was aiming for a fast pace, which his players could accommodate for the most part, with some imprecision in the first movement of the strings and flute. Entries by the French horn were random. The highlight was the second movement, a carefully organized funeral march with expressive phrasing.
The rambunctious third movement had better coordination across the orchestra, including much more reliable horn playing in the pastoral trio. Zimmerman’s tempo for the exuberant finale might have been overly optimistic, but despite a few shortcomings, the ensemble held up valiantly.
The acoustics of this new auditorium are clear enough without being overly warm, so the solo cello performed well without being dressed the way it would be in a more resonant space. This left a sense of distance between the players, on a pre-stage with a shell wall behind them, and the listener. Like most multipurpose spaces, it is generally suitable for all types of music that will be heard there.
The Fairfax Symphony Orchestra returns to its home location, the Center for the Arts at George Mason University, for the remainder of its season, beginning with the Tchaikovsky concert Nutcracker December 18 and 19. fairfaxsymphony.org; 703-563-1990