On Saturday evening the Oregon Symphony performed three pieces that plumbed the depths of the human quest for spiritual affirmation. In the first half of the concert, the orchestra teamed up with the Portland Symphonic Choir to present a satisfying and incisive performance of Barber's "Prayers of Kierkegaard" and Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms." In the second half, the orchestra went on an incredible tear, digging into the emotional potboiler of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 (aka, "Pathetique) and delivering a terrific performance.
Since I have spent many years singing with the Portland Symphonic Choir (although not this past season), my opinion isn't entirely without bias. But from my seat in the lower balcony, I loved the well-balanced sound of their voices. By putting the basses and altos in the middle of the choir loft, Kalmar seems to have found a solution in which the lower vocal sound doesn't get lost. The choir also sang with clear diction, unless the orchestra played at forte level. After that point, all I could hear from the choir were the sopranos -- especially in the Barber piece.
The Bernstein number has some really tricky attacks for the men, and they expertly handled all of them. The boy soprano, Logan Stugart, more than held his own and delivered his solos very well. Kudos also to Jeffrey Work for his snarky trumpet sound in the second movement and to Nancy Ives and Joel Belgique for their wonderful duet at the end of the piece.
The orchestra played exceedingly well in the Tchaikovsky symphony. From the first ominous and haunting sound of the bassoons at the outset to the final anguished, dying heartbeat in the basses in the last measures, this performance wrung out every note of the emotional and spiritual turmoil of this incredible masterpiece. I loved watching the strings -- all of them --- having fun with this piece -- which I think that have played many times -- but they seem not to get tired of it and instead found new ways to probe the depths of this music. Although I didn't know the oboist and the violinist who died a month or so ago, I couldn't help but think that some of this music was played for them.
This concert repeats on Monday night; so get a ticket if any are available.