Symphony guest artist Blake Pouliot shines even with masked musicians | Review

Special To The Democrat

The Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra continued its 2020-2021 season this past weekend with a virtual concert recorded in Ruby Diamond Auditorium. Like all of this season’s programs, this one was programmed in collaboration with a guest artist, in this case violinist Blake Pouliot.

The program included orchestral selections, music for violin and orchestra, and movements for solo violin. As a veteran of new music concerts, I am very aware of the problem of lengthy breaks between pieces as the stage is reset to accommodate the varying performing forces. These breaks are edited out of pre-recorded concerts, which is one advantage of the format.

Blake Pouliot is a supremely talented young violinist with a big, full sound, and brilliant technique in the service of expressive communication. Pouliot, TSO Music Director Darko Butorac, and members of the orchestra collaborated on a program that included a selection of orchestra movements, pieces for violin and orchestra, and selections for solo violin.

The large stage at Ruby Diamond allowed for more space between the (masked) musicians, as well as a larger acoustical environment. The orchestra has, over the course of the season, adjusted to the difficulty of spaced playing and took full advantage of the space. It shined especially bright in an arrangement of Django Reinhardt’s “Minor Swing.”

Pouliot played movements from solo works by J. S. Bach (the Prelude from his third Partita) and Sergei Prokofiev with style and expression. He tackled the considerable technical problems presented by each piece with apparent ease.

The centerpiece of the concert was, for me, the paired performances of the “Winter” concertos from Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. Pouliot was an exceptional soloist and Butorac and the reduced orchestra were able accompanists. The concert closed with a brisk reading of the Finale from Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.

These virtual concerts by the Tallahassee Symphony continue to be a strong and valuable contribution to the arts community’s response to the pandemic and the ongoing economic downturn.

It takes quite a bit of time to organize a concert season, so it’s reasonable to expect that the next season or two will be effected by the same conditions. Based on the current season there’s reason for optimism regarding what the Orchestra will come up with.

“An Evening with Violinist Blake Pouliot” is available to purchase and stream on demand through Saturday, Jan. 30. For Roku users, the TSO recommends downloading their Roku channel for viewing, though streaming from a desktop or mobile device is also popular. Household tickets are $25 and may be purchased at

By Steve Hicken | Courtesy of the Tallahassee Democrat