Such an amazing thing happened at the Atlanta Symphony concert last night! Actually several amazing things happened. First of all the whole concert was music written within the last 75 years, the first half and part of the second half of the program was music written since 1987, and three of those pieces were written this year. Two of them were two of the fanfares that the ASO has commissioned to celebrate Robert Spano’s 10th anniversary with the Orchestra. One was Tenfold by Jennifer Higdon and was a very traditional brassy sort of fanfare with modern sounds folded into the mix, and the other was Fanfaari by Finnish composer Olli Mustonen, which was a sort of march as if by some of Finland’s legendary people.
The 1987 piece was Alvin Singleton’s After Fallen Crumbs, and it was the least interesting of the new pieces, but the James Oliverio double timpani concerto, Dynasty, written for Paul and Mark Yancich was just stunning. The playing by the brothers was phenomenal, and the orchestral part was an interesting mix of references to different personalities of the drumming sound. It’s hard to conceive of expressive timpani, other than expressing excitement or drama, but Oliverio and friends did it. The audience stood up and screamed afterwards. That kind of excitement over a new work is such a wonderful thing to hear in a day when many symphony lovers avoid anything written later than 1900. Now, in Atlanta, standing ovations are the rule rather than the exception, but this one was exceptionally excited and enthusiastic, and it had been totally earned.
The last piece was Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, his last composition, which was written in 1940. It was not the heavy late Romantic sound that makes one feel, as my friend George Mann once said, “as if you had been dipped in chocolate.” The first movement (Non allegro) was a lyrical piece with a gorgeous saxophone solo that reminded me of some of Rachmaninoff’s wonderful songs. The second movement was a waltz that started off cheerfully and ended up kind of frenetically. Unfortunately some electronic something in the hall suddenly decided to provide a low note that Rachmaninoff did not score. Spano had to leave the stage between movements while the stage crew frantically tried and finally succeeded in cutting it off. Even the orchestra members were looking for what could have been causing the noise.
This interruption messed up the effect of moving from the frantic waltz into the Dies irae flavored third movement. I think that I would have loved this movement and its lovely contemplation of afterlife, especially for a man of nearly 70 who never wrote another work. Rachmaninoff has the dire Dies irae wiped out by a cheerful second melody from his 1915 Vespers. The title of the movement from which the melody was taken is “Blessed Art Thou, O Lord.” Thank goodness for the program notes. I would certainly have understood the character of the second melody, but I would not have known about its source. I think what I like most about music is that you never, ever, know it all. I will wait with anticipation for the recording of the Oliverio piece, and in the meantime I’ll look for one of the Symphonic Dances so that I can enjoy it again.
Posted by Patricia Callaway. Posted In : Hearing Music