President and CEO of the BSO, Mark Hanson greeted the audience and, in recognition of the human loss and suffering in Israel and Gaza, the orchestra performed John Williams’ “Elegy,” a short, lush piece for strings, followed by a moment of silence.
…wonderfully diverse programming but an educational, as well as a musical, experience. Bravo to David Danzmayr, Christine Goerke, and the BSO for the interesting journey.
The scheduled evening’s performance began with “This Midnight Hour,” a composition for orchestra by British composer Anna Clyne and commissioned by the Seattle Symphony and the Orchestra national d’Ile-de-France for which she was composer-in-residence from 2014-2016. The music was inspired by two poems, “La Musica” by Juan Ramon Jimenez (a Spanish poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature) and “Harmonie du soir” by Charles Baudelaire (a French poet, essayist and art critic). Commenting on the score, Ms. Clyne stated, “While it is not intended to depict a specific narrative, my intention is that it will evoke a visual journey for the listener.” The music was reminiscent of a film score: thematic repetitions, high-spirited unison sections, string and woodwind solos, and a reflectively slow dual trumpet solo. At the beginning, the strings evoked a sense of someone being chased in an approaching storm but then there followed lyrical moments of calm melody, sounds of folk music, and hymn-like melody. There were abrupt pauses, periodic explosions of timpani, a sudden beautiful legato passage, and a somewhat mysterious passage which reminded me of the theme from the TV series “The Twilight Zone.” Although engaging and accessible, there were a lot of emotions packed into this 12-minute piece. I was surprised when the performance ended with just a bang on the bass drum.
Next on the program was “Andromache’s Farewell” for soprano and orchestra, composed in 1962 by Samuel Barber for the inaugural season of the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center and based on the ancient Greek drama “The Trojan Women” by Euripides (translated by J.P. Creagh). Andromache has lost her husband, her father and her seven brothers at the hands of Achilles during the Trojan War. In order to avoid her young son’s eventual return to avenge these deaths, the Greeks are about to kill him and send Andromache to slavery in Greece before destroying her homeland. She must bid him farewell and does so in three sections of the piece: a regret that the war has denied her son his heritage as the “Lord of all Asia;” a rage against Helen of Troy as the prime cause of the problems that led to the war; and a final reluctant handing over of her child and expression of shame at his impending death. Barber has created a miniature opera in this short piece. We hear in the music and voice of Andromache the emotions she feels at everything she has lost in Troy, her lack of power to avoid her fate, and the march of triumph as the Greeks take her child. Christine Goerke set the mood before singing a single note. Dressed in a beautiful black gown, she expressed Andromache’s terror and sadness with her hands, arms and face at the ruins of the burning Troy while the orchestra played the introduction. Her voice was strong and powerful, and the piece was highlighted throughout by her emotional presentation of the text in every note and gesture. Her farewell to her son brought tears to her eyes and our eyes as well. The audience responded with a standing ovation and she treated us to an encore. (It would be lovely if the performers would announce the title and composer of any encore.) In light of recent events, this piece is a powerful reminder of the senselessness of war.
The final piece in this program was Symphony No. 1 in E Minor by the Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius. Premiered in 1899 by the Helsinki Orchestral Society, the original version has not survived. After the premiere, Sibelius made revisions, and that score was first performed by the Helsinki Philharmonic in Berlin in 1900 and is the standard version used today. It is written in the tradition of the Romantic period symphony with four movements. Sibelius was most influenced by the melodies and rhythms of Tchaikovsky, but sections of this piece also reflect the folk tradition of Finland. The first movement begins with a clarinet solo with percussive background, eventually adding wind and brass, and resulting in the symphonic theme. The second slow movement starts in a quiet mood, builds to an energetic, emotional climax and returns to the original theme with a calm ending. It is in the third movement that we see Sibelius at his most creative work. The quick, lively orchestrations form a protest, perhaps questioning the motives of Tsar Nicholas II’s denial of Finland (a supposedly autonomous Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire) to exercise its constitutional rights. The movement’s rapid themes in succession lead to an incomplete ending which foreshadows the finale, featuring an orchestrated version of the original theme leading to an emotionally charged, percussive free-form fantasy passage, and finally ending the piece with a simple pluck of violin string. Conductor David Danzmayr kept the BSO under tight control with his vigorous style of hand, arm and sometimes full body gestures that brought out the best from the orchestra.
Leaving the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, I felt my evening enjoyed not only wonderfully diverse programming but an educational, as well as a musical, experience. Education is a prelude to enjoyment. Bravo to David Danzmayr, Christine Goerke, and the BSO for the interesting journey.
Running Time: Two hours with one intermission.
“Sibelius Symphony No. 1″ was presented on October 21, 2023 by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at The Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral Street, Baltimore MD 21201 and October 22, 2023 at The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda MD 20852. For more information and to purchase tickets for upcoming performances, please visit online or call the Box Office (Baltimore 410-728-8000) or Bethesda (1-877-276-1444). Box Office hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Saturday/Sunday, 12 noon-5 p.m. The Box Office is also open 60 minutes before each performance and through intermission for walk-up sales.