Monday, May 7, 2007

Oregon Symphony creates memorable concert with the 3 Ss

I heard the Oregon Symphony deliver a wonderful concert on Sunday evening , playing pieces by Scriabin, Schumann, and Shostakovich. Although the monumental artistry required by Shostakovich's Symphony No. 8 in the second half of the program almost overwhelmed everything in the first, I thoroughly enjoyed how the orchestra performed Scriabin's Reverie and Schumann's Concerto in A minor for Cello. In particular, the artistry of guest virtuoso Alban Gerhardt in the cello concerto was magnificent.

The concert began with a tribute to bass trombonist Alan Pierce for his 45 years of playing in the orchestra. Pierce started his run when he was 17 years old. That's when he won his audition with the Portland Symphony (as it used to be known). Wow! I used to play trombone, and I think that I was barely getting past the marching band music stage at that age.

After the applause for Pierce died down, the orchestra began to play Scriabin's Reverie. The musical line in this piece seemed to float around aimlessly until the clarinet, played wonderfully by Yoshinori Nakao, got a hold of a theme and pushed the music downstream a little ways. Still the piece seemed to be haunted by a subdued, quiet melancholy, and in the end it dissolved into a kind of nothingness or a metaphysical state that left me wanting to hear more.

I got a lot more with the cello concerto that came next. I really enjoyed the way that Gerhardt played this work. His artistry was impeccable and he created all sorts of shadings and color in tone. At times he rocked the cello back and forth as he played. His duet with the orchestra's principal cellist Nancy Ives was lyrical and beautiful.

After intermission, the orchestra performed Shostakovich's Eighth with an impassioned purpose that gripped the audience by the throat. There was just a terrific onslaught of sound -- all of it interesting and driven and arduous -- and the overall effect made this rendition the best Shostakovich performance I've ever heard. I'll not forget Niel DePonte pounding on the snare drum, Carla Wilson sounding a shrill alarm with her piccolo, Harris Orem with a hauntingly plaintive English horn, the whispering of the string section, another treacherous piccolo solo by Wilson, the tension driven up in the second movement like someone ringing out a wet towel and then stomping on it, the angry violas in the third movement, the punctuation by the cellos and then the timpani, then everyone flailing away at a supersonic speed like a truly mad person, then a wonderful flute solo followed by a French horn solo, and a squadron of raspy flutes. It was all incredibly forceful and engaging. I applaud Kalmar's conducting of this piece. He had a great vision for it and the audience really got it. The brass were terrific, and I can't wait for the orchestra to tackle a Bruckner symphony. Yes! Bring on Bruckner now!

Addendum: A reader pointed out that I forgot to mention guest concertmaster, Jun Iwasaki, who played very, very well in his debut with the orchestra. Iwasaki is currently the concertmaster of the Canton Symphony Orchestra and Co-Leader of the International Sejong Soloists.

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