ASO: Robert Spano and Stephen Mulligan with Jennifer Johnson Cano and Jorge Federico Osorio

Although I attended the Saturday concert, I went to the chamber music performance that preceded the Thursday concert. I had to make a huge effort to leave work on time and then, to avoid feeling rushed, I stopped at a Moe’s near the Woodruff Arts Center to have an early and decidedly unsatisfying supper. If I’m completely honest, I’m not sure that it was worth the trouble. Each of the three pieces had at least one performer without whom the works would have sounded a lot better and I wasn’t that fond of the first two pieces on the program.

The first work was a brass transcription of a suite from “West Side Story.” Much like the suite for bassoon quartet, I found the instrumentation didn’t work for me. The best part of it was a loungey-sounding “Maria” and I didn’t think that was really that great.

This was followed by movement III from Ingolf Dahl’s Music for Brass Instruments. Taken as a whole, I like the work, but I found myself zoning out with just the third movement taken out of context.

The only work that I really enjoyed on the chamber program was Michael Kurth’s String Quartet No. 2. With one performer in particular, I felt that it could have been played a lot better, though I thought that the work was really good. The third movement tries a little hard to be like a well liked rebel, but the second movement, “Murmuration,” is nearly as wonderful as seeing a murmuration of starlings in flight.

The main program for the orchestra on Saturday pleased me a lot more. The first part was also by Kurth, “Everything Lasts Forever.” This piece is a lot of fun with a decent touch of beauty built in. It begins with “Toes,” an insistent and impatient movement that is followed by the sweet lament of the second movement, “Bird Sing Love.” The conclusion, “We Have All the Time in the World,” gave me the impression of an adventure in the countryside, like an exciting excursion to see something neat and novel, only to come across a small town that welcomes the intrepid traveler. It is a strong and very enjoyable work and has a coherence to it that I felt was lacking in Kurth’s “A Thousand Words.”

Next up was Bernstein’s Symphony no. 1, “Jeremiah.” I love this work. The first movement, “Prophecy,” souds to me like something capable of experiencing and sharing great joy moving through something sinister. The music isn’t sinister so much as it seems to express the prophet’s feeling of being among something sinister. “Profanation,” gives me an impression of strength and resolve pushing through a sinister onslaught. The final movement, “Lamentation,” is moving beyond belief. To say that I was touched by this performance wouldn’t begin to cover it. Spano and the orchestra gave a strong and dramatic reading of the score. Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano’s voice was robust and her diction was excellent with the Hebrew of the quotations from איכה.

Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to hearing Beethoven’s piano concerto no. 5. After expressive works like the Kurth and Bernstein, it just wasn’t the kind of thing that I wanted to hear. I understand why it was programmed, but if we had to have a big-name piece then I’d rather have heard Tchaikovsky’s symphony no. 6. Of course, we are required to have a concerto (or a similar soloist-centered piece) in every program or the ASO will lose lose their classical music license and have to go 100% pops, so the Tchaikovsky wouldn’t do. When was the last time that Mendelssohn’s violin concerto was programmed?

Anyway, even Spano wasn’t down with the Beethoven after such a moving performance of the Bernstein, so he left at intermission, giving some lame excuse about the flu, and made assistant conductor Stephen Mulligan wave the baton at the musicians for this one. Still, it was a solid performance by the orchestra. Jorge Federico Osorio’s performance was very interesting. There was something that I didn’t quite understand in his interpretation, though I can’t quite explain it. He didn’t overplay for thrills, though his playing certainly wasn’t understated. There were soft bits that I generally hear played as a kind of sweet prodding that he played to sound more hesitant and unsure (though his playing was clearly neither). I feel like there exists some piece out there that if I were to hear him play it then I’d fully understand him as a musician. I don’t think that piece is a Beethoven concerto, though, which is a shame because I have a ticket to hear him playing the fourth next month. All that said, his performance was as good as it was interesting and, despite my desire to hear something else, it was some decent Beethoven.

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