ASO: Donald Runnicles with Christina Smith

I really liked Saturday’s concert by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. It began and ended with some decent Beethoven: the Leonore Overture No. 3 and his Symphony no. 6. I kind of got the feeling that Runnicles put a bit more thought into the latter than the former but I enjoyed both. I was in a bit of a weird mood, though, so my mind went to some rather strange and dark places in the sixth…a bit less pastoral than Beethoven’s music generally elicits.

My mindset may also have been driven in part by its stark contrast with the emotional tone of the piece that cam before it, a wonderfully moving performance of Bernstein’s Ḥalil featuring ASO principal flautist Christina Smith as soloist. Both Smith and the orchestra were clear and expressive, though it was Smith’s playing that most grabbed me. She was playing on a custom Powel 14k white-gold flute from 1950 and was wearing a silver-sequined dress to match it. The image she cut on stage was appropriate, I think, to a piece named for the instrument she was playing. Beyond being deeply moved by the performance, I was also impressed by how the audience responded so well to a piece that employs the 12 tone compositional technique and is so emotionally dark: normally a piece like this would be pushing the tolerances of a lot of the ASO’s regular audience but, thanks in no small part to the excellent performance, maybe a few horizons were broadened. I think that, perhaps, Runnicles’ taking up a microphone and giving the piece a proper introduction helped a lot. It’s common for the ASO to have brief interviews with composers about works that they’re premiering, but I think that having someone actually say what the work means to them probably does a lot more to help the audience appreciate something that might be a little more challenging to ears unfamiliar with the style of the composer. Perhaps the ASO can learn from this and maybe find a way to be a bit bolder in their programming in the future.

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