At the Oregon Symphony performance on Sunday night I settled into my seat in the lower balcony and surveyed a wide expanse of empty seats on either side of me. Could it be that everyone was still recovering from double wins for Oregon and Oregon State football? Or that the property tax statements knocked concertgoers into the hospital? Jeez, there must've been some great shows on TV. No, no, no. The lousy attendance was most likely due to the symphony’s Spanish Splendor program, which featured works by Luciano Berio and Manuel de Falla, two composers who are not well known here. Well, those of you who took a pass missed out on some of the best music making by the Oregon Symphony to date.
The concert was dedicated to the memory of Martha Herby, who joined the flute section in 1981. The orchestra played Christoph Willibald Gluck’s “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” with great sensitivity. Principal flutist David Buck’s solos were soothing and the strings were lovely, creating a heavenly tribute for their colleague.
The program continued with a charming and crisp interpretation of Haydn’s Symphony No. 93 in D major. The orchestra expressed the music with plenty of nuances, including sudden stops, smooth decays, and elegant phrasing. The audience chuckled when principal bassoonist Evan Kuhlmann punctuated the beautiful melody in second movement with a low note. Overall, the orchestra’s tone was sweet, spirited, and assured, making this Haydn sparkle.
The second number was Berio’s “Folk Songs,” which he originally wrote for a chamber ensemble and mezzo soprano and later arranged for full orchestra. The Oregon Symphony performance featured Patricia Risley, a beautiful, young lady with a gorgeous voice. Risley sang the eleven songs wonderfully, and added flair with her facial expressions and gestures. The orchestration was mostly light, requiring taught chamber-ensemble musicianship – especially from the violas. The orchestra accompanied Risley with much finesse so that each song acquired its own character. As a set (eleven songs in all) the effect was enchanting.
In the second half of the program, the orchestra played Falla’s complete ballet score for “The Three-Cornered Hat.” This music retells the comic story of a magistrate and his failed attempts to seduce another man’s wife. The orchestra performed outstandingly throughout this piece. From the declarative statement of the opening fanfare through all of the mood changes that captured a warm, evening in a small Spanish town, to the wild, whirling dance sounds – with the exciting piccolo trills, castanets, and maracas – this piece gave us a cornucopia of vivid imagery. I enjoyed the repeated cries of “hey”* from the orchestra and their rhythmic clapping also. How many pieces offer that?
John Cox, principal horn, stood out for his excellent playing, but all in all, every section performed at a very high level.
Over all, I’m very proud our orchestra gave it their best in spite of a house that seemed only 60 percent full. What a terrific group of musicians! And conductor Carlos Kalmar more than rose to the occasion with his remarkable leadership from the podium. All are consummate professionals who love to make music.
Finally, if Risley is engaged to sing here again, be sure to hear her!
* I found out later that the "hey" was actually "ole!"