ASO: Robert Spano with Elizabeth Pridgen and David Coucheron

What an excellent evening of music from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra! Conducted by Robert Spano, the program was mostly Russian (with a Russian-inspired piece by an Englishman), 100% composed in the 20th century, and made use of two soloists, both of whom were local: Elizabeth Pridgen, best known as the artistic director of the Atlanta Chamber Players, and David Coucheron, best known as the concertmaster of the ASO. This may be the first concert of the main season where every performance and piece on the program appealed to me.

The first piece on the program was Oliver Knussen’s “Flourish with Fireworks,” which works off of Stravinsky’s piece “Fireworks.” It is a brief, bright, and exciting piece that makes for an excellent opener for a program. The performance was strong and clear and every section rose to the occasion.

This was followed by a slimmed down orchestration of Scriabin’s “Prometheus” arranged by composer and ASO bassist Michael Kurth. I’m not familiar enough with the the original arrangement to comment on how Kurth’s compared, but I can say that it was absolutely fantastic to hear. The piece called for a piano soloist, a part played quite capably by Elizabeth Pridgen. It did take me a few minutes to get used to the sound of the piano because I somehow got stuck with a seat in the front row and the instrument sounded fairly hollow and alien from that perspective. Once I acclimated, though, the whole piece was a wonderful blend of excitement and mystery. According to the program notes, there was a form of theosophy to which Scriabin subscribed and it was suggested that, if played in its entirety, the piece may lead to the end of the world. Kurth said that his arrangement should prevent that but I’d just like to point out that the ASO would have been working on this piece around the time of the Great Mistake of Tuesday, November 8. So, yeah, maybe it’s Kurth we should be blaming.

After the intermission, Coucheron soloed in Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto no. 1. It was a charming reading of a charming and beautiful piece. Spano, Coucheron, and the orchestra did a great job of brining all of the expressiveness out of the piece through to the last note. Spano’s conducting really stood out in the slower parts of the first and third movements, where he showed great sensitivity and, along with Coucheron’s violin, brought out out a delicate but colorful sound that really touched me. The evening was then concluded with a strong performance of Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite” with all the oomph and fun that the piece could offer. It was like an exclamation mark to put on the end of the statement made by the tender lyricism of the concerto that proceeded it.

Given my mood since yesterday morning’s rude awakening, I’m exceptionally happy that this was such a good performance of such a program full of cleverness, excitement, and charm. Nothing makes me feel more connected with the world than good art and great music performed well can touch me like nothing else can. Thank you, ASO, for a much needed bit of beauty to cut through the gloom of alienation.

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