Courtesy of Kathy Myrick/San Juan Symphony
Courtesy of Kathy Myrick/San Juan Symphony
On Saturday night, Music Director Arthur Post and the San Juan Symphony launched the good ship Lollapalooza.
To put it colloquially, it was a doozie. Sometimes, American slang says it best. The opening concert of the orchestra’s 2012-13 season turned out to be a beaut, a daisy, a lulu.
Lollapalooza is this year’s theme, taken from turn-of-the-(last) century American slang, meaning something outstanding.
Subtitled “Rock ’n’ Roll in Vienna,” the concert also lived up to that promise.
Post let loose with two big orchestral works – one probably new to everyone’s ears, including the musicians – Friedrich Gulda’s 1980 Concerto for Cello and Wind Instruments. The second half of the concert featured a groundbreaker that premiered 200 years ago in Vienna: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major.
Gulda’s quirky, multifaceted piece functioned as an overture, which happened to be the title of the first movement.
At first hearing, it seemed a potpourri. At the center, a lengthy cadenza enables the soloist to explore several themes and in the grand tradition of cadenzas, improvise.
The piece began with a miniature fanfare, an extremely brief cello figure. It was a tense and angry motif, quickly picked up by the wind ensemble, setting in motion a fillip of agitation that appeared and reappeared throughout the entire work.
The motif suddenly shifted into a bluesy beat, underscored by Jonathan Latta on drum set and his double bass colleagues Troy Raper and David Homer. That easy, toe-tapping rhythm morphed into a little pastoral folk tune with a clarinet duet by Loretta Krein and Mark Walters. What was this all about? More jazz, more folk tunes and that bit of uneasy musical agitation.
The second movement, Idylle, began with a brass chorale accompanied by Segev’s lovely, floating cello line. That morphed into a lilting Viennese country dance. Throughout all the shifts, Segev’s cello seemed to ride on the wings of a counter melody until the brass returned and everyone jostled about in a light-hearted coda.
None of the above prepared anyone for the central cadenza, a dark and troubled solo played mostly in the cello’s lowest register. A simple, two-note descending figure haunted the movement, returning again and again.
Two works by Jewish composers came to mind: Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo (Voice in the Wilderness) and Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei (All Vows), an adagio on Hebrew melodies for cello and orchestra. The latter was written in 1881 for the evening service of Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement. All three are full of sadness. Gulda’s darkly glittering cadenza, played with tenderness and power by Segev, felt like a tribute to the tradition of Hebrew music, a tradition to which Gulda belongs.
When the orchestra embarked on the elegant Menuett, another contrast blossomed, something akin to classical clarity. Guitarist Benjamin Golden rolled out wave after wave of crisp arpeggios. Latta added a metallic tambourine. Oboist Danielle Menapace wove sinuous lines above Segev’s warm cello into a Moorish musical tapestry.
The Finale alla Marcia brought back Gulda’s broad humor in a big, rollicking imitation of a Souza oom-pah parade. The swaggering march turned briefly into a polka before the whole piece strutted away.
Was Gulda making fun of a 19th-century tradition? Of American bravado? Who knows?
After all that energy, everyone needed an intermission.
When Post and company returned, they delivered the symphony that startled Vienna 200 years ago. What a way to celebrate an anniversary.
Throughout the Beethoven, Post shaped and controlled most of the dynamic extremes. Sometimes the balance was off, and occasionally Post had to quiet the brass.
Allegretto, the haunting second movement, is the most familiar part of the symphony. A mesmerizing two-bar rhythmic figure functions as a repeating motif throughout. When the motif was first heard, Post kept the lowest strings at a barely audible level. When the motif passed through the sections up to the first violins, Post carefully controlled the dynamics to a final, brilliant display.
Post drove his musicians through the huge, extended finale as if they were all in a barely controlled, runaway carriage on the cobblestones of Vienna. It was a fast and joyous chase.
What began as a little night music on a calm September evening, turned into a high-speed gallop, a knockout, a peach, a pip of a concert. A lollapalooza.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at email@example.com.