Saturday’s performance of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra was a good one. It began with the world premier of two new movements of Michael Gandolfi’s “The Garden of Cosmic Speculation” that, together, were titled “A Garden Feeds Also the Soul.” The first of these two movements was titled “The Bone Garden.” It came across as a sort of stately pseudo-march from dark to light, where it lingered somewhere pretty, with a lighter motif supported by the rhythms that brought the music there. Then it turned back towards a last memento mori with an overlay of mystery rather than dread underlying the beginning of the work. It was a beautiful journey guided by some pretty cool music.
I enjoyed the second movement a lot less. “The Scottish Worthies” is made up of musical profiles of notable Scots. In the end, there will be many more people profiled, but for this concert the music focused on Frances Hutcheson, David Hume, Adam Smith, James Hutton, Robert Adam, James Watt, Thomas Telford, Robert Burns, and Joanna Baillie. Each person had their own piece of music and, while none of them were bad and some of them were excellent, it felt a little disjointed after “The Bone Garden.” It felt so out of place that shortly into Hutcheson’s piece, I scribbled down some notes on things that I wanted to remember about the previous movement because it felt like a completely different work and was drawing my mind away from it. In particular, having so many endings in one movement was a bit disruptive. I think that I might have enjoyed it more if, rather than being paired with the first movement, it had been programmed to open the second half of the concert. As part of the larger work, I’d much rather the composer had composed a series of garden party scenes in which each personality interacts with others of the list.
Following the Gandolfi, we heard Dejan Lazić’s Concerto in Istrian Style with the composer soloing on piano. The overture and intermezzo that started the work were kind of dancey and bright and I found myself wanting to look up the Istrian folk dances that might be paired with the Istrian folk music traditions that inspired the work. There was then a very long cadenza with its own movement entitled Cadenza Ad Libitum. Lazić’s performance of it (and the rest of the work) was excellent, but it really came across more of being at his pleasure than the audience’s because, though I was really digging it at the beginning, by the end I was just waiting for the orchestra to come in and move us to something different. This was followed by a canon and rondo on Istrian folk tunes, which was wonderful, though many of us thought that the end of this movement was the end of the piece but had our clapping cut short when we found that there a finale to follow. I liked pretty much everything in the five-movement piece, but thought that it could do with some editing. It was a bit self-indulgent and, while every part of it started well, I found my mind wandering by the end of each section. The performance, though, I found excellent: any weakness that I might find in Lazić as composer, I would not ascribe to him as a pianist.
The concert concluded with Rachmaninov’s Symphony no. 3, which is one that I love and, interestingly, works very well on a program with Lazić’s concerto. The piece is like a dream, especially the particularly dreamy second movement. The performance was excellent and kept a smile on my face throughout the work. Overall, the conducting and musicianship of this concert was excellent and, if I found weaknesses in some of the compositions, it was still an absolute joy to hear everything performed so well.