January 30 - Belle, Savage

Finished the January 28 Marin Symphony review at 1am. Will be in March 2007 issue of 21st-Century Music soon, and edited versions also in San Francisco Classical Voice and Commuter Times....

The Bell Curve

Steve Reich used to say something to the effect that his interest in early
music was keen, then tended to slack with regards to the baroque, reaching a
nadir in the classic era, and zooming up again during the time of Stravinsky and
beyond. There were many in musical academia in the late 20th-century who
would have agreed with this general sentiment, including -- to an extent -- this

So it was a surprise that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the big hit at Marin
Symphony, the evening of January 28 -- Mozart, that very epitome of order and
perfection, who was even found wanting when compared to F.J. Haydn, saved by his
humor, and Ludwig van Beethoven, saved by his power -- and both by their, at
times, restless unpredictability.

More than 200 years after Mozart penned his Symphony No. 35 ("Haffner"), the
work continues to move in its consummate balance of stasis and change, its
canny use of obvious devices for non-obvious ends, its clearly-argued yet
ingeniously original deployment of material and form. Music Director Alasdair Neale
made it all happen with an orchestra that has decidedly improved over the
years. Even in the reduced forces of a late 18th-century work, the strings worked
at a high level, and winds blended in understated ways very welcome after
past indiscretions. From the resounding introduction, through the dignities and
confidences of the interior movements, to the fevered finale, this was a
top-notch mainstream performance.

The concert opened with a Magnum Opus commissioned composition by Peteris
Vasks, entitled "Sala, Symphonic Elegy for Orchestra" (2006), in its premiere.
As the composer notes in the program, "'Sala' . . . means island. Every single
person is actually an island and this island is a source of sadness as well
as of energy power and also of dramaticism. So, everybody is an island and the
story [of the Symphonic Elegy] is about it, told from my own island. . . .
Every listener should seek their own island and experience their own symphonic

Nice sentiments (through the scrim of English-as-a-second-language), although
Magnum Opus, a joint project of the Marin, Santa Rosa and Oakland East Bay
Symphonies, has not exactly been knocking at most of our doors to write elegies.
This one is a solid 20-minute single movement, long on solemnity and beauty,
and short on rhythm, humor, and energy. It was persuasively realized, in
gorgeous bell-tone effects that evoked at once the spiritual world of Eastern
European post-minimalism and Dmitri Shostakovich's desolate Russian secularism
(the xylophones doubling strings a la the second movement of the DDS "Symphony
No. 5" helped). A measured chorale of three trombones popped up on several
occasions and there were no less than three climacti interupti, broken off just
at the point of resolution into more diffuse Ivesian textures. After the
fireworks. After the whatever. Sinuous, rambling melodies from English horn and
clarinet -- definitely an island with respect to our hustle-bustle contemporary
world. A retreat, but perhaps a confrontation and an antidote, too. In any
case, the music was warmly received, and garnered a standing ovation.

Kudos were also due for Orion Weiss, for his resolute performance of Sergei
Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 3," which has been rising on the popularity
charts recently, thanks to media connections. While less tuneful than other
of the composer's works, this piece is not without its late late late romantic
retro charms and Weiss and company gave their all. Still it was not hard to
let the mind wander back to Mozart and those crisp, rhythmic lines, surrounded
by the stew of emotions fore and aft.