Saturday, October 5, 2019

Oregon Symphony opens the season with magnificent Mozart and Brahms

The Oregon Symphony hit a couple of grand slams by opening its season on September 28 at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall with the music of Mozart and Brahms. Guest artist Garrick Ohlsson put his amazing technical skills and artistry on display once again with the Oregon Symphony. He has an incredible facility to summon just the right dynamics to make the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 25 sounded as fresh as ever. His playing was immaculate. His sound refined and elegant but not prissy. Each movement captivated listeners so much that spontaneous applause erupted from the audience. In the second movement, he created crystalline tones that were not glancing – as if he had somehow personally rounded off each one. The last movement was playful and cheerful, putting everyone in good spirits that caused thunderous acclamation from the entire hall. He graciously returned to the keyboard with an encore, Chopin’s Waltz in E flat, Op. 18, and again stunned listeners with a superb performance that resulted in another clamorous response from patrons.

After intermission, the orchestra, guided by Music Director Carlos Kalmar, gave a marvelous performance of Brahms Second Symphony. The orchestra played with vigor, agility, and great sensitivity, including several delicate entries in the second movement. The music alternated wonderfully between noble, stirring melodic lines and those that were lighter and happier. All of the musicians displayed an impressive degree of articulation, but the exchanges between the strings and woodwinds in the third movement demonstrated were exquisite. Each section excelled throughout the piece, but a significant highlight, highlighted by Joseph Berger’s horn glowing solos. The audience responded to each movement with applause, and the joyful, strong finale resulted in an enthusiastic, heartfelt standing ovation.

The concert opened with the world premiere of “Remaking a Forest” by British-American composer Oscar Bettison. Concertmaster Sarah Kwak started the piece with simple, brief phrases that trickled into the orchestra. But all the notes were different and felt random and disconnected. Sounds would drip or slide off pitch. Sometimes a booming punch from the percussion section would interrupt. At other times a clarinet might quietly insinuate itself into the mix and then drop out. The one-movement piece also featured snarling trombones and enigmatic passages from the brass sections that suggested a descent into a deep cavern. The strings pierced the air with slashing, sharp sounds. Amidst the blur, I heard little bells ringing and sandpapery sounds. I thought that everything would coalesce into something harmonic, be it never did. Perhaps a forest was remade – I am not sure. The composer made an appearance on stage to a polite round of applause, but the piece was rather cool and puzzling.

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