Monday, September 22, 2014

Bravo to the 'Heroes and Heroines' of the DSO!

By Guest Blogger, Chuck Holdeman
Chuck is a regional composer of lyrical, contemporary classical music, including opera, orchestral music, songs, chamber music, and music for film.


The Delaware Symphony kicked off its 2014-15 season Friday evening at Wilmington's Grand Opera House. Board chair Charles Babcock — thrust into his role by the sudden death last summer of then chairman Bruce Kallos — gave a light-hearted (if lengthy) welcome to the near full house.

Music Director David Amado led the orchestra and audience in an enthusiastic rendition of our national anthem. Those of us who attended the pre-concert lecture had already met the soloist for Beethoven's 5th piano concerto — Venezuelan Gabriela Martinez, a charming and lovely young woman, is a graduate of Juilliard and winner of the Anton Rubenstein competition. Her conversation with Amado revealed her strong feelings for the music of Beethoven and her ability to learn concertos quickly — her budding career has included filling in for indisposed soloists.

While their discussion prepared us for a concerto of heroic dimension, the performance by Martinez and the DSO seemed to be propelled instead by lyrical sweep. Martinez plays with a clarity that communicates with great immediacy to an audience. I also enjoyed her use of the pedals, which colorized her sensitive phrasing. While she could always be heard over the orchestra, she nevertheless finessed her approach with daring pianissimos. She and Amado suggested that the second movement was the opposite of the first, introspective as opposed to heroic, yet they chose a tempo a little quicker than some, emphasizing the congenial rather than the mystical. Martinez had spoken of the chamber music implication of Beethoven's detailed writing for the orchestral instruments. Her obvious intense listening to those voices produced a beautiful unanimity, also enhanced by the sensitivity of conductor Amado, himself a pianist. The brilliance of the finale was as much due to Beethoven's witty side as to the composer's heroic strokes. I much preferred to take this concerto on its own terms, rather than be put in the frame of mind of Beethoven's publisher, who dubbed the piece "Emperor." I think for Beethoven, it was just music.

The second half gave us Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov's suite Scheherazade, based on this heroine's endless spinning of tales during 1,001 nights, successfully fending off the threat of the murderous Sultan. As a musician myself (a former bassoonist in the DSO), I realized I had performed this piece much more often than I had actually heard it from the audience. What a brilliant masterpiece it is! Most of the piece plays itself: the rich Arab-tinged harmonies, the memorable tunes, the rhythmic propulsiveness, the striking instrumental solos.

As in their lyrical approach to Beethoven, Amado and the orchestra relished the sweeping melodies, the swells of Rimsky's ocean. The only place that may not have worked quite so well was in the second movement, The Kalendar Prince, which is highly sectionalized. Yes, a good story has many fascinating episodes, but there must be a dramatic tension binding them — as with comedy, it's in the timing, which might have been more dramatically satisfying in this performance. I cannot fail to mention many of the featured musicians, quite a few of whom were my colleagues when I was in the orchestra. One who came after me is the youthfully ebullient concertmaster David Southorn, who shown brightly in Rimsky's numerous violin cadenzas, representing the storyteller, also functioning as a unifying motif. An older musician might display a broader range of expression, especially in the intimate direction, but the audience responded to Southorn's drama, command, and beauty of tone with hearty shouts of 'bravo' during the concertmaster's many bows at the conclusion.

Similar command was shown by my longtime colleague, bassoonist Jon Gaarder, whose pacing and virtuosity were just terrific. Charles Salinger's clarinet and Kim Reighley's flute sounded as lovely and apt as they always do, and Stephanie Wilson, taking the principal oboe role, made a strong impression every time she entered. I can tell you that for double reed players, who generally make their own reeds, the mark of having a good night on stage is having a good reed. Stephanie, nice reed!! Trumpeter Brian Kuszyk, wow, what triple tonguing. And those solos for second trombone, bravo Richard Linn. There was plenty for both first and second horn, bravi Karen Schubert and Lisa Dunham. And thank you, Doug McNames, for those particularly generous glissandos on the 'cello.

Amado and all the strings deserve high praise for the third movement, The Young Prince and Princess. The sound was lush and the ultra-romantic interpretation was remarkably complex, and everyone managed to do it together! One colleague I missed is cymbal-player Tom Blanchard. Rimsky, like many Russian composers, wrote a lot for the cymbals, and Blanchard is a player who can actually build a phrase with this crashing instrument. I like a loud cymbal, but the substitute last night tended to just play loud.

It was indeed a very beautiful concert with an especially large and vocal audience, a terrific launch to the new season by The Delaware Symphony Orchestra! The next program will be given on October 17 & 19 at The Tatnall School.

See www.delawaresymphony.org.

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