There was plenty to bask in at the Sunday concert, May 4, by the Symphony of Oak Park-River Forest, conducted in their season finale by Music Director Jay Friedman at First United Church.

Victor Píchardo, winner of the first Walter A. Horban Memorial Composers’ Competition award, given by the symphony, was beaming with pride after the performance of his Alegoría Yaki. This short, four-movement piece, entirely accessible in style, was well-crafted, especially the mysterious introduction featuring bells and eerie string tremolos.

The orchestra delivered just the right amount of punch and Latin drive, mainly augmented by a battery of percussion. There’s not much harmonic adventure in this work, but there’s plenty of engrossing activity tossed artfully from wind soloists to brass with punctuations from maracas and wood blocks.

Based on simple indigenous Mexican dances, in which Píchardo has specialized throughout his highly acclaimed performing career, this work sounds like it was meant for a modern orchestra. If anything, the simple folk music phrases are enhanced by the colors of winds, gongs, and cymbals.

Hillary Hempel was the featured violin soloist, not to be confused with the Grammy-winning violinist Hilary Hahn, though a near-equal comparison could be drawn. Hempel played like a commander-in-chief, belying her 18 years, and strutting at the head of the ensemble with astonishing control and nuance. Her selection, Sarasate’s “Carmen Fantasy,” is dazzling in and of itself (a work recorded by nearly every world-class violinist).

But Hempel exuded confidence and a magical “at-home” feel to her playing that made this work seem all her own. Her high register rang through, whether it was soft or loud, racy or reflective. She explored the scope of moods and colors one would expect from a fully-formed master. Add to the mix her sunny smile and the fire-red carnation in her hair. No mezzo-soprano could have done better as Carmen in full costume on an opera stage. Watch out for this young artist-if she keeps up with her instrument, she is sure to gain even greater accolades than the recognition she has already garnered from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts.

The Great C Major Symphony of Schubert, numbered nine, concluded the program. After hearing this orchestra stretch its limits with Mahler and Berg in past programs, by comparison this straightforward work by the youthful Austrian bachelor was much easier to handle. Schubert, prolific in the genres of art song and chamber music, struggled throughout his short life to conquer the symphonic realm. Indeed few of his symphonies were even performed before he died in 1828, having just finished the “Great” and barely begun his 10th.

This work, classical in form, melodic in shape and scoring, suffered a bit from the breadth and grandeur in Friedman’s interpretation, but that is a matter of taste. Especially in the softer more delicate solo passages, Schubert seems to give every section of the orchestra its own moment in the sun. The horns shined brilliantly, in the spotlight even more than usual, owing to both Schubert’s craft and their fine playing. Under the leadership of Charles Pikler, now ending his first full season as concert master, the violins provided a robust, focused sound that ably anchored the orchestra in many passages.

At the conclusion of the “Great,” Maestro Friedman himself was beaming and the audience responded in its usual fashion with radiant ovations, shouts, and applause. The afternoon rays, streaming through the west windows, bathed even the cheering audience in a golden glow.

Join the discussion on social media!