Review: Contemporary Works Shine in Second Series of Masterpieces at the Spokane Symphony Orchestra
For the second concert in the Spokane Symphony Orchestra’s Masterpieces Series, Music Director and Principal Conductor James Lowe has selected works that some people might choose to dislike, even without hearing them. Even avowed classical music lovers have their biases that might have prevented them from feeling the joy that repeatedly lifted Saturday night audiences at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox after performances of Anna’s “Masquerade” (2013) Clyne, the Flute Concerto (1926) by Carl Nielsen and the Second Symphony (1908) by Sergei Rachmaninoff.
The prejudice that some feel towards contemporary concert music is, of course, a kind of fear of the unknown, an anguish of being inadequate or unable to face a new challenge. The determined and creative efforts of Lowe and his predecessor, Eckart Preu, did much to free Spokane audiences from this burden by including new or newly composed works in virtually every program, including two other Clyne pieces: Poem 2012’s “Night Ferry” symphony and “Dance” (2019), the cello concerto that was performed so brilliantly last year by the Inbal Segev Symphony Orchestra and cellist.
Clyne composed “Masquerade” for the final night of the Proms of London, a massive music festival famous for its informal vibe and hugely eclectic audience. In this brief work, Clyne recounts the hectic and sometimes grim promenade festivals of 18th-century London, where actors reciting Shakespeare competed with jugglers, fire-eaters and puppeteers to entertain masked revelers from all walks of life. strata of English society.
Clyne draws his audience into a dizzying whirlwind of activity in which each section of the orchestra captures their attention in a joyful cacophony of cascading scales and snippets of melody, all meticulously planned to sound spontaneous, and characterized as we are. have come to recognize as Clyne’s very sensitive ear for orchestral color. Such music demands both precision and flexibility from the orchestra, and that is exactly what it has provided.
The prejudice against the music of the Danish composer Carl Nielsen arose from the fact that he showed very poor judgment by being neither Jean Sibelius nor Edvard Grieg, two roughly contemporary Scandinavians whose works have always found a warm reception in concert halls around the world, thanks to their abundant gifts of melody and earnestness of purpose, which Nielsen evidently lacked. What his music offers instead is an endless stream of ideas – clever, lyrical, unsettling – tumbling down in a sequence that often defies explanation, yet is thought-provoking, thought-provoking and, as in his Flute Concerto, delicious.
Whatever quarrel one may have had with the frail structure of Nielsen’s concerto, the brilliance of its performance by the Spokane Symphony Orchestra and its soloist for those concerts, Demarre McGill, whose mastery of the flute sets a new benchmark for this instrument, has effectively been discarded. McGill’s exceptional technique allows him to achieve expressive ends usually reserved for string players. His playing offers the poignant lyricism and mysterious beauty expected of a first-rate flautist.
To these he adds a range of color and intensity that is usually only achievable by the best violinists. Moreover, McGill’s musicality guides him to apply this exceptional gift in a way that brings the highest degree of liveliness, humor and pathos to every phrase of Nielsen’s rapid shifts in thought and mood. Those who in the past would have applied to Nielsen’s lightweight concerto Dr. Johnson’s judgment of Milton’s “Paradise Lost” – “None ever wish it longer” – have found themselves wishing it was twice as long. , if only to provide more opportunities to revel in McGill’s game.
Those with shorter memories may be surprised that there could be bias affecting the performance of Rachmaninoff’s works. Yet for decades – roughly between 1950 and 1980 – they were scorned by musicians and audiences alike as irrelevant potboilers created by an artist who insisted on clinging to an earlier era of Russian musical culture – l era of Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov – rather than keeping pace with the times in the modern era in which Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Bartok exposed the multiple flaws of Romanticism.
What was heard by the public this weekend in Spokane, however, was an expression of an open and generous spirit whose love of life and nostalgia for its impermanence know no era and are immune to mode changes. Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27 is as rich in ideas and invention as anything Nielsen has ever conceived. However, it also shows the composer’s desire not to thwart and frustrate the listener’s expectations, but rather to satisfy them at every moment. The melody is not provided in fragments, but in a seemingly endless stream, stretching beyond the length of anything earlier composers thought of.
Each beautiful new tune is announced by a solo instrument before being lovingly taken up by the full orchestra. This allowed us to marvel once again at the playing of several of the principal musicians of the orchestra: Charles Karshney (horn), Keith Thomas (oboe), Sheila McNally-Armstrong (English horn), Lynn Feller-Marshall (bassoon ), and Erica Uzcategui (concertmaster for these concerts). Particularly noteworthy is principal clarinet Chip Phillips’ moving rendition of the captivating passage at the start of the second movement, in which the composer surpasses himself in creating an “endless melody”.