By Daniel Buckwalter

There was the spiritually meditative beginning, the spritely interplay between the violin and viola in the middle, and the pure classical sound of Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A Major at the end.

In short, there was something for almost everyone on March 23 at the sold-out sanctuary of Central Presbyterian Church near the University of Oregon when the Oregon Mozart Players performed the program Breathe, a wonderful evening of music under the direction of artistic director and conductor Kelly Kuo.

The night began with the piece Breathe by prolific gospel and classical composer Carlos Simon, son of a preacher who grew up in Atlanta and whose compositions have centered on the experiences of Black Americans, be it to call out systemic racism or uplift Black culture and history.

Breathe is a soft, prayerful one-movement piece that Kuo, in remarks to the audience with executive director Brian McWhorter, noted as exquisite: “It asks us to be quiet. It asks us to listen.”

It was a powerful dedication to Holly Spencer, a longtime member of the board and executive director of the Eugene Springfield Youth Orchestras, who died of an undisclosed illness in January.

Members of the ESYO joined OMP for the playing of Breathe. This is an annual collaboration between the two organizations, but this year’s effort was especially poignant, and it was a superb start to the evening.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s three-movement Sinfonia Concertante in E-Flat Major for Violin and Viola was next, and that brought concertmaster and violinist Alice Blankenship as well violist Arnaud Ghillebaert to the stage as soloists, supported by the chamber orchestra.

This was the perfect pair to have together for such a piece. The elegance of Ghillebaert’s throaty viola was a warm complement to the pristine high voice of Blankenship’s violin. It almost seemed as if the audience was eavesdropping on a romantic conversation between the two instruments throughout the piece.

Mendelssohn’s symphony was the perfect ending to the program and a reminder that OMP’s season finale is May 11 at Beall Hall on the University of Oregon campus.

That program will include Nokuthula Ngwenyama’s Primal Message and Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Emperor concerto, featuring pianist Dean Kramer.

Kelly Kuo; photo by Jiyang Chen

It should be a great way to end the season.

Editor’s Note: The May 11 concert will be Kuo’s final appearance as conductor of the Oregon Mozart Players after a 12-year run. He is one of six finalists for the position of artistic director and conductor of the Walla Walla (Washington) Symphony, following Yaacov Bergman, who led the orchestra from 1987 to 2023 until his death following a heart attack. Kuo also holds the positions of music director of the Reno (Nevada) Chamber Orchestra and associate artistic director of the American Lyric Theater in New York City.