COTTAGE GROVE – Nobody was wearing formal attire. Admission was free. Kids were running around in the grass. Tasty treats were available in the food trucks.
Same deal as it is every year when the Eugene Symphony makes its annual appearance at Bohemia Park during the Concert in the Park series. As usual, Monday evening’s crowd was the largest of the season, at least so far.
Assistant conductor Daniel Cho said performing outdoors, in his view, is always a blast.
“Performing in a concert hall, there’s a level of seriousness and formality to it,” Cho said after the show. “The orchestra dresses up, the audience dresses up, and there’s sort of a ritualistic nature to it, whereas when you come out here there’s just a level of fun. I get to talk to the audience too, and we’re inviting them to participate in the music more. I get to let go a little bit, I personally like this kind of setting more, I love conducting and I really have a hard time controlling myself.”
Cho, who’s only 29, has worked under Francesco Lecce-Chong for four years.
“He’s an amazing conductor, I’ve learned a lot from him,” Cho said. “I have nothing but respect for him, and I feel lucky to call him a friend. I sit at home, staring at pages of music, then you get to come out here and do events like this and it’s totally worth it.”
Cho must have learned well. He recently agreed to join the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, which is based in Birmingham, as assistant conductor and music director of the Alabama Symphony Youth Orchestra.
But for right now, he’s living the dream as assistant conductor for the Eugene Symphony. And the fans are reaping the benefits.
For starters, Cho got to perform for the first time with his girlfriend, Farayi Malek, as they did a mashup of “Mahler’s 3rd symphony” and Billie Holiday’s “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
“I was listening to ‘Mahler’s 3rd symphony’ while doing the dishes, and she came running out of her room and said it was ‘I’ll Be Seeing You.’ She recognized the melody, and I said, ‘No, you’re mistaken, it was ‘Mahler’s 3rd symphony.’ I said we should do a mashup of it, kind of as a joke, then we actually started working on it. She plunked it out on the piano, and I picked out the sections of the Mahler song that I thought would go well on violin, and she knows how to arrange better than I do, so she did that part, and we put it together, and I think it came together well. This was actually our first time hearing it live.”
Another highlight of the show was the grand finale, the iconic Firebird ballet by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. The song takes you through this climactic battle in which the prince and the firebird emerge victorious, and as the king and his minions lay defeated on the ground, they fall into a deep sleep, exhausted from battle, with a bassoon solo in the background. Then as the dawn rises, the curse that the evil king and minions placed on the kingdom is broken. There’s a horn solo as the sun rises, followed by a huge, bombastic ending, and a heart-wrenching feeling of freedom.
“It’s one of the most beloved works in all of classical music,” Cho said. “I’ve been listening to this since I was 11, and this is my first time ever to conduct it.
“It’s every conductor’s dream to do this piece.”
And it was every fan’s delight to hear it.