Sonja Bosca-Harasim, FM Symphony Orchestra deliver moving, thoughtful performance

Concert includes members of the FM area Youth Symphony playing side-by-side with peers.

Sonja Bosca-Harasim, seen here playing Symphony Rocks, is the featured soloist at this weekend's FM Symphony Orchestra concerts.
Urban Toad Media / Contributed

FARGO — On paper this weekend’s Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra concerts look a little daunting. The lineup showcases a work by and is dedicated to a Finnish composer who died of brain cancer last year at 48. Another work in the show is dedicated to another composer’s brother who died of skin cancer. Oh, and the concert ends with Dimitri Shostakovish’s epic “Fifth Symphony,” written to get the composer back in Joseph Stalin’s good graces.

If all of that sounds like too much to take in on a cold January Saturday night, you missed out on a wonderful evening of music. What may have looked dark and dreary on paper was engaging, bright and even uplifting in the hands of FMSO Music Director Christopher Zimmerman.

The second concert starts at 2 p.m. Sunday at Festival Concert Hall, North Dakota State University.

The payoff is in large part due to violinist Sonja Bosca-Harasim. The FMSO’s concertmaster is always a captivating performer, but her turn as soloist on Jaakko Kuusisto’s “Violin Concerto” was thrilling. The composer himself was a virtuosic violinist and the piece gives Bosca-Harasim a true showcase for her talents.

In a pre-show talk she said after hearing the first three notes of the piece she was hooked. The audience had the same reaction Saturday night. It opens with Bosca Harasim playing alone and sets the tone for the dark, mysterious and tense piece that could easily find a home in a psychological thriller. Close your eyes and her double string playing may convince you there’s another musician performing beside her.


The third movement opens with a woodblock ticking like a clock with a briefly rolling timpani punctuating the urgency. Bosca-Harasim jumps in and is off with a flash. “Shredding” may be used more to describe heavy metal guitarists, but it works for the violinist whose fretwork is dizzying to watch and dazzling to hear. It’s not just the fast parts that are so captivating. With seemingly the faintest touches and lightest bowing creating the quietest sounds, she still commands the stage and creates compelling music.

She and music director Chroistopher Zimmerman surprised the audience with an encore duet of “Berceuse” by Jean Sibelius — another Finnish composer — with Zimmerman playing piano. It was a wonderful treat.

While most soloists only play their featured number, Bosca-Harasim, assumed her position as the head of orchestra for the commanding Shostakovich “Fifth Symphony.” Zimmerman talked briefly about the piece and how the composer had been criticized by Stalin and other powerful Soviets and his “Fifth Symphony” was seen as him making amends.

Regardless of his intentions, 86 years after it premiered the piece still packs a dramatic punch, with lots of dynamic horns, and highlights for the flute, clarinet, oboe and, of course, Bosca-Harasim. The composition has touches of folk music and military marches and near the end I noticed one violinist raising and putting down her feet in time as if she was marching to the tune.

The night opened with Jennifer Higdon’s “blue cathedral.” As the name suggests, the piece plays out like entering an architectural house of the holy. After the slightest chimes, the cellos accompany you on your first slow steps into the space, followed by a sense of grandeur and a flute that soars above.

Higdon played the flute and her late younger brother, Andrew Blue Higdon, played clarinet. The two instruments -- played by Deb Harris and Leigh Wakefield, respectively -- interweave through the work, as if each go off in different directions exploring. They reemerge at the end and as the other instruments fall away, they remain until it's just the last lingering strains of clarinet fading away against a distant chiming. It’s truly a moving work.

The piece is performed side-by-side with members of the Fargo-Moorhead Area Youth Symphonies adding extra heft to the work, especially as the end fades out and you see members of the orchestra rolling Chinese reflex balls in their hand or rubbing a finger around the rim of a tuned water goblet creating and ethereal din. While inspired by the tragic loss of her brother, the beautiful composition is uplifting as it keeps his memory and spirit alive in music.

The work is the only one of the night not to have Bosca-Harasim’s fingerprints on it. The rest of the night was a deserving showcase for her and the last time FMSO audiences may see her for a while. The violinist is close to giving birth and likely to miss the next few concerts. She leaves us with memories of a fantastic performance and the promise of more to come.


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For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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