Concert review (or, November at the symphony, continued)

As promised, here’s my gloss on Saturday’s Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra concert.

Alfred Schnittke, Ritual. A dirge that came out of nowhere with a low rumble of bass, tuba, trombones, and a whole bunch of percussion, and ended with tubular bells (remember those things?). It sounded vaguely like waking up from a nightmare in which you were trapped in a root cellar with one small window, and later on I read that Schnittke in fact meant it as a tribute to those who died in World War II. Schnittke was Russian, and apparently he was in and out of trouble with the Communist authorities because of music like this. It got what the most tepid applause I’ve heard at an ECSO concert since…wow, Paul Phillips was music director then. I loved every second of this work.

Nancy Van de Vate, Gema Jawa (Echoes of Java). Maestro Shimada mentioned before this piece that he is friends with the composer. I liked Gema Jawa, and it was certainly more restful than Schnittke’s Ritual; also, it was a new approach (or at least new to me) to incorporating gamelan music into Western music. Ultimately, though, the ideas slowed down a bit before the music stopped. I love that the ECSO is liberally incorporating modern music by living composers into the programs, and I’m glad I heard this one.

Jean Sibelius, Concerto in D Minor for Violin and Orchestra. You know the color of 1½ feet of snow in the moonlight? Sibelius’s music often has that same quality: cold, verging on ultraviolet. But he was also one of the last great composers in the late Romantic tradition. I’m not normally a huge fan of violin concertos, but especially in the 2nd movement, soloist Mikhail Ovrutsky and the orchestra almost perfectly merged those dichotomous aspects of Sibelius’s musical personality. In a brief introduction, the Executive Director of the ECSO described Ovrutsky as “Itzhak Perlman without, uh, the big price tag.” That might not sound like a compliment, but it is, and it’s appropriate. Perlman is a monarch of the big honkin’ Romantic 19th century repertoire, and often a recording of his has sold me on the merits of one of those chestnuts—or, at the very least, I came to know why he liked it and wanted to play it. Ovrutsky, who’s thirty but wouldn’t look out of place at a Connecticut College rave, played up the emotive aspects and nailed the daunting technical aspects (many violin concertos, this one included, have long stretches that exist to give the soloist a chance to toss some bottle rockets—yeah, like guitar gods in metal bands; same principle). He also paid very close, and so it seemed quite appreciative, attention to the orchestra, even swaying along to the music when he wasn’t playing. Like I noted a few lines ago, our own Toshi Shimada found the arctic quality in Sibelius’s orchestration, and played it off Ovrutsky’s fiery élan. Great musicianship all around. Just great.

Antonin Dvorak, Symphony no. 8. Dvorak (or Dvořák, for you Unicode fans) might be the least angsty of the great composers. He wrote nine symphonies, of which the last is probably the most famous and this one is possibly the best. Dvořák’s 8th is irrepressibly melodic all the way through. The music is organized around a few instantly earwormable themes, and gets from one place to another without getting lost. If you are a very good orchestra (which the ECSO is), the biggest trick to playing the 8th is to play it like you enjoy it (which the ECSO did). A fine, affable end to an exceptional evening of music.

This entry was posted in The lively arts, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.