September 17, 2016
The Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra doubled-down on the first half of the New Perspectives title in their debut concert for the 2016-17 season. Saturdayevening at the DECC Symphony Hall the DSSO offered both a new piece and new technology as part of “The Dream of America.”
After a rousing rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” the season began with a big bang provided by the big bass drum as the percussionists launched into Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” wherein the brass section certainly announced their presence with authority.
Conductor Dirk Meyer followed that opening with a fascinating contemporary work, Osvaldo Golijov’s “Azul” (“Blue”), featuring guest soloists Matt Haimovitz on cello and Michael Ward-Bergman on hyper-accordion, as well as the DSSO’s own Gene Koshinski and Tim Broscious on well over a dozen widely different percussion instruments.
“Azul” begins with an orchestral dawn of time drone, against which Haimovitz coaxed long sustained notes from his cello, slowly creating complex harmonics between soloist and orchestra. The hyper-accordion is not as exotic as a theremin, but provides similar alien elements, as the orchestra overwhelms Haimovitz’s cello.
Golijov forgoes the traditional pauses between movements, which enhances the organic nature of “Azul.” The second movement begins similarly, albeit with higher notes and less volume, this time developing a hypnotic driving, pulsing power that almost reaches a crescendo before dissipating.
The third movement began with a marvelous section in which Haimovitz alone on his cello replicated what the entire orchestra had just done and was then joined by the other soloists as the element of rhythm was thoroughly explored.
The orchestra came back into the equation in the final movement, and the jarring cacophonous climax certainly underscored how modern industrial man is the antithesis to the primordial past represented by the opening movements.
The audience was invited to use the Octava app during the performance of Antonín Dvořák’s “From the New World” Symphony, although the show of hands indicated relatively few did. Octava provided 21 screens with 1-2 paragraphs of information: light blue-green letters on backgrounds of black, blue, or green (the color shifts clue you to when the next text arrives).
The timing of the texts was excellent: you had enough time to read that the flutes would be playing something that sounded like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” before it happened.
I think the less you know about a piece, the more useful you would find Octava. I was already familiar with most of the musical insights, which I liked more than the historical aspects, which take you outside of the music you are listening to.
Meanwhile, back at the concert…
I knew going in that I would enjoy the towering trumpet melody that kicks off the final movement and the war that plays out between it and Dvořák’s other themes, but the question was what part of the symphony would Meyer make me listen to with new ears. This turned out to be the sublime string section in the middle of the second movement.
The evening ended with an appreciation of the ties between “Azul” and “Frome the New World,” both having bird calls and both ending with the long fade out of the final notes. Just more reminders of the care with which Meyer constructs these concerts.
By: Lawrance Bernabo
Read at: Duluth News Tribune