I had a wonderful evening at last night's Austin Symphony concert (although the Austin City Limits Festival crowds made traffic incredibly terrible), and once again I was introduced to some new works and thrilled to hear one of my favorites. The opening piece was Smetana's The High Castle (actually part of a much longer work), which began with a fantastic double harp introduction. Truthfully, I imagine this piece was selected for the program since the Berlioz work also requires two harps! The guest violinist was Judith Ingolfsson (of Iceland), who performed Schumann's Violin Concerto in D Minor, which I had never heard before. This is one of the last works Schumann completed before his attempted suicide, so it has a interesting past (his widow didn't want it performed), but unfortunately I didn't find it as interesting to hear. The solo violin seems reduced to just a counter melody for the orchestra, so it never gets to shine and assert itself. Of course, the playing looked extremely difficult and was performed flawlessly, but I just didn't care for such an uncharacteristic concerto (but as always, I was thankful to be exposed to it). The soloist chose to play a beautiful short solo work as an encore, which I enjoyed much more! But the real highlight of the evening was Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique, which I have loved since discovering it in college. The music itself it incredible with its signature motif that appears in each of the five movements, representing the girl who is the object of the artist's love (and obsession) in this prime example of "program music". Being familiar with Berlioz' notes made it fun to image the story taking place, from the ballroom scene, to the terrible opium-induced vision of death by guillotine, to the spooky witches' sabbath (made much creepier by the cool bowing effects of the strings). Tons of percussion adedd to the excitement, and at one point there were even four musicians on tympani! Obviously the audience loved Symphonie Fantastique as I do, since the applause was enormous. It was so wonderful to hear one of my favorite works performed live, definitely making fighting the traffic worthwhile!