Sunday, February 10, 2013

Landscapes a varied view at Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra concert

review and photos by janet i. martineau

Landscapes was the theme of Saturday night’s Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra concert at the Temple Theatre.

And, oh, what a varied picture the three works on the program provided -- chirping birds, thunderstorms, an Appalachian hoedown, countryside peacefulness.....and a constant shimmering noise throughout the orchestra that allowed each listener to create his or her own landscape.

That shimmering comment refers to the first piece on the program conducted by Brett Mitchell’s -- a minimalist one by John Adams, titled “Common Tones in Simple Times.”

Tones is the operative word here. As Mitchell said at its outset, the piece has no melody, no theme, “just listen for color...and maybe with your eyes closed.”

To describe it is impossible. To hear it was a challenge but a rewarding one. Although contemporary minimalist compositions tend to leave this listener cold, this one did not.
Angela Fuller and Brett Mitchell

Suffice it to say that virtually every instrument shimmers in sound -- that is the only word I can muster.

 There are the  ebbs and flows (pulses, modulations) of various instruments as they are the primary sound and then fade as another instrument rises over ever so slowly. There are very low sounds and high ones. A marimba here and and two pianos there.

A sameness of sound yet differences...the color Mitchell referred to. Yet, also, a small sense of rhythm to it all.

Adams defines the work as if one was seeing the surface of a continent from the window of a jet plane, and says the piece is influenced by long camera pans and  film techniques. 

Perhaps for him but this listener remained earthbound, eyes closed with images of nature in all its variances sparking so much it became overwhelming.

This piece made if difficult to settle into the rest of the program, for some reason, as the mind kept processing it (and thinking what a nightmare it must be to play, and we would LOVE to see what the score looks like).

The second piece on the program was also composed by a contemporary American -- one steeped in classical music but who is known for collaborating with country music folks.

Nothing minimalist here at all. Even a hint of two of Aaron Copland. And with true guts, a two movement piece played without pause and encompassing both classical music violin playing and country music genre fiddling. This is the Appalachian hoedown referred to in the second paragraph.

Edgar Meyer, a bass player, is the composer, and he created the piece in 1999 for the Grammy-winning American violinist Hilary Hahn. Playing it in Saginaw was Angela Fuller, principal second violin with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

It too was a work of much color -- but also the more traditional melodies and themes. At  the outset, Fuller’s violin was whisper quiet and simple; tranquil. But then came that second fiddling movement, a retreat, some bassoon intervention, and then more high energy from the soloist.

People laugh at me when I say my two favorite kinds of music are classical and country (or country and classical, depending on the mood of the day). Thank you Edgar Meyer for proving they can share a piece together and make it work.

Concluding the evening was Beethoven’s No. 6 (Pastoral), a true oldie and goodie, which Mitchell conducted without a score before him.

Its five movements are titled “Awakening of Cheerful Feelings on Arriving in the Country,” “Scene by the Brook,” “Merry Gathering of the Country Folk,” “Thunderstorm” and “...Thankful Feelings After the Storm.” It totality it is peaceful and relaxing, even with the storm.

Premiered by the master in 1806, it also proves mankind across the decades and  miles across the ocean are linked by its love of simple things as the piece celebrates moods evoked by the weather and nature.

It is the “Brook” movement with the chirping birds -- nightingale on flute, quail on oboe and cuckoo on clarinet. Great stuff perfectly played, as was the entire piece under Mitchell’s baton.

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