MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

A Double Bill of Boulanger and Beethoven Rings in the New Year in Seattle

David Danzmayr and the Seattle Symphony; photo (c) Jorge Gustavo Elias

I closed out 2022 with a review of the Seattle Symphony performing Boulanger and Beethoven:

The tradition of attending performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony around New Year’s in Japan — where it is known simply as daiku — has a counterpart in Seattle. That the score’s epic journey spans such a spectrum of human experience yet culminates in a message of overwhelming affirmation makes the Ninth ideally suited for the Janus duty of casting a retrospective glance over the highs and lows of the year drawing to a close while ringing in the one just beginning with hope-filled anticipation….

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Filed under: Beethoven, review, Seattle Symphony

Senses of an Ending: The Emerson String Quartet Takes Its Final Bow in Seattle

The Emerson String Quartet; photo (c) Jürgen Frank

There’s actually still nearly a year to go before the Emerson String Quartet (ESQ) plays its final final concert, which is currently planned for the end of October 2023 at Alice Tully Hall in Manhattan. On top of that, they are also preparing a feature-length documentary of their farewell tour, written and directed by Tristan Cook and produced by Birgit Gernbōck. So this splendid, storied American ensemble still has some way to go before reaching the end of the line….

Still, the Emersons’ concert on 1 December at the Meany Center for the Performing Arts had a distinctly valedictory accent. One of the stops on their official farewell tour, their appearance at the University of Washington venue had already been postponed from the spring and marked the 27th (or possibly even 28th) visit since the ESQ’s debut there in 1988. The ensemble attracts a loyal following, and an impressive percentage of the audience indicated that they had attended that inaugural performance.

As for the musicians, violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer have remained part of the ESQ since they founded it in 1976, and violist Lawrence Dutton joined in 1977. The only other change in personnel has been the arrival of Paul Watkins in 2013 following the departure of longtime cellist David Finckel. (Reunions with Finckel and the other two former members, cellist Eric Wilson and violist Guillermo Figueroa, are also on the agenda during the farewell tour.)

The ESQ have been offering their renowned Shostakovich interpretations as part of the farewell tour — their final London concert a few weeks ago featured the bleak implications of the Russian composer’s last three quartets — but they chose a blend of American and classic European fare for their Meany Center program. Each selection suggested an individual variant on the idea of leave-taking. George Walker expressed his grief over the passing of his grandmother in his 1946 Lyric for Strings, which originated as the slow movement of his String Quartet No. 1. Walker’s structural idea of having the single voices enter one after the other served as a beautiful metaphor for the individuality of the quartet members joining together in song and converging in a collective eloquence.

The ESQ here set the tone for the entire program, which at times seemed uncharacteristically understated, even subdued — as if to keep the audience pricking up its ears to fill in the spaces for what seemed left unsaid. This ploy took particularly delightful form in the fifth of Haydn’s Op. 33 set, the Quartet in G major that since the 19th century has been known by the English nickname “How Do You Do.” The “farewell” here was especially sly and sophisticated. Haydn cleverly plays with the idea of musical endings, which is to say, cadences, by starting off the whole work with a cadential gesture that befits a closing phrase — but that he catchily turns into the connective idea, leading us ever onward. The ESQ didn’t overemphasize Haydn’s little jokes of time and timing — the pizzicato ending that throws an enigmatic question mark on the otherwise plaintive slow movement, or the stop-and-start high-jinx of the scherzo, for example. The focus seemed to be on letting the music have its say, with minimal “interference.”

This translated into a decidedly austere, anti-sentimental take on Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings — like Walker’s, music by a young man, originally positioned as part of a string quartet, which seems wise far beyond its composer’s years. The Adagio (which is said to have been inspired by the third of Virgil’s Georgics) has of course been turned into a default song of farewell, an idealized elegy enlisted to provide a kind of shared catharsis in times of devastating tragedy. Despite some wavering intonation (here and elsewhere in the program), the Emersons homed in, without exaggeration, on the simplicity of the line, Setzer’s first violin soaring with courageous honesty and Dutton’s viola adding a slight, pleading edge. I was especially struck by how an early music sensibility emerged here in place of the usual, throbbing Romanticism.

Schubert was just a couple years older than the Barber of the Adagio for Strings when he wrote his great Quartet in G major in 1826. But rather than launch his career, the Austrian’s final string quartet (unpublished while he was still alive) seems to combine an expansive sense of symphonic writing with his most ambitious ideas of the quartet genre. (It was just around this time that Beethoven was working on his final quartet, in the very same city.)

There was less dramatic digging-in to the muscular aspect of Schubert’s sound world than I expected, and more nuance and room left for inference. Drucker took the lead here (as he had in the Haydn), while Watkins offered some especially flavorful phrasing. The ensemble’s rhythmic flexibility served the Schubert well, and the harmonic revelations of this remarkable quartet were presented as if being discovered for the first time, to mesmerizing effect. The finality of the final cadence to the dance of the fourth movement — which felt as it might otherwise have kept driving ahead, a frenzied vision of eternal return — came as a shock.

As a gentle encore, the Emersons turned to Dvořák’s quartet arrangement of one of the numbers from the collection known as Cypresses (“I Wander Often Past Yonder House”) — the string quartet distilled into pure song.

Review (c) 2022 Thomas May — All rights reserved.

Filed under: Emerson String Quartet, George Walker, Haydn, review, Schubert

Juilliard String Quartet’s Moving Late Beethoven at Meany Center

Juilliard String Quartet, The Juilliard School, Wednesday, May 4, 2022. Credit Photo: Erin Baiano

Soon after I wrote about the Juilliard String Quartet (JSQ) for Strings magazine on the occasion of its 75th-anniversary season last year, Roger Tapping’s illness worsened; the beloved violist, who had played with the ensemble since 2013, died in January 2022. One of the programs the JSQ had planned for the anniversary centered around Beethoven’s Op. 130 Quartet in B-flat major and had already been postponed from its originally intended performance during the 2020 homages to the composer. That program, titled “Cavatina,” was finally presented on November 15 at the University of Washington’s Meany Center for the Performing Arts.

Molly Carr, who had been mentored by Tapping, was welcomed into the ensemble in May as the late violist’s successor. They are currently in the midst of a West Coast tour for the first time in this new formation: Areta Zhulla and Ronald Copes, violins; Molly Carr, viola; and Astrid Schween, cello. With this personnel, the JSQ will bring the “Beethoven “Cavatina” program back home to New York at the end of the month at Alice Tully Hall — exactly a year after it had originally been scheduled.

The concept behind “Cavatina” involves an intriguing blend of an enigmatic and unfathomably profound repertoire monument — for some, the most excellent of Beethoven’s quartets — with music by a living composer who has a valuable perspective to offer on his predecessor.

The JSQ juxtaposed Beethoven’s massive work from 1825-26 with a pair of string quartets by the prominent German composer Jörg Widmann that they had commissioned as commentary pieces on Op. 130; they concluded the challenging program with a performance of the Op. 133 Grosse Fuge, which Beethoven initially intended to serve as the finale of Op. 130.

Ronald Copes offered a brief but eloquent introduction to the project that explained its newly acquired layer of significance as a memorial for their late colleague Roger Tapping. During its first decades starting in the mid-20th century, under founding member Robert Mann’s guidance, the JSQ had firmed up its reputation as an intellectually inclined, Modernist powerhouse, its Beethoven refracted through the lens of Bartók, for example. In some ways, this performance suggested a radical reset — and an attempt to recreate the sheer strangeness and enigma Beethoven’s late quartets must have posed to his contemporaries. The musicians emphasized the principle of contrast — so astoundingly different from High Classical contrast — that makes Beethoven sound perennially experimental.

This was especially evident in their pacing of the pauses and unison attacks in the long first movement and the eccentric humor they brought out in the dance movements. The fifth-movement Cavatina became the axis around which this gigantic quartet revolved, and it inspired the most directly emotional playing I’ve heard from the Juilliards. Copes memorably described the heartbreak in this music as “Beethoven trying to control the sadness.” Their account, unsentimental but not stoic, was exceptionally moving, the players breathing together as one organism. The return to earth in the later, more modest finale Beethoven designed for Op. 130 brought to mind the mechanism of release Bach inserts in the Goldberg Variations, near the very end of the journey, with the Quodlibet: a new acceptance of the reality of ordinary life, which of course can never be perceived in the same way after what has just been experienced.

The evening’s second half presented the two new Widmann quartets. I couldn’t determine where these were first premiered — apparently at some point earlier this season — but the commission had been a special passion project of Roger Tapping. The first, Widmann’s Quartet No. 8 (Beethoven Study III) is in three movements and explodes into life as a meditation on the energy and strangeness of Op. 130. What Widmann accomplishes isn’t a sterile deconstruction or postmodern round dance about a defined parameter but a provocative reimagining. As the JSQ attempted through their primary account of Op. 130, Widmann’s musical response seeks to recreate the utter weirdness of Beethoven’s late quartets when they were first introduced. Pleasures abounded in the JSQ’s performance, such as listening to Widmann’s rethink of the core principle of variation with a “permanent calling into question of assertions.” The final movement ended with the sound of an impossible lightness, like a balloon let go to drift upward into invisibility.

Widmann has actually composed five quartets he calls “Beethoven Studies” (his String Quartets Nos. 6-10), which are somehow tethered to Op. 130. The last of these (Cavatina — Beethoven Study V), also commissioned by the JSQ, concludes this cycle with a reflection on Beethoven’s Adagio movement — “one of the most emotional movements ever written by Beethoven,” as Widmann puts it, with a certain degree of understatement. In contrast to the structural intricacies and playful games of his Quartet No. 8, he lets loose in this single-movement work with “a free form of ardent singing and flowing,” in the composer’s words, “marking the conclusion of the cycle which grapple so vehemently and sensuously with the cosmos of Beethoven’s quartets.”

Beethoven was famously persuaded to publish the Grosse Fuge as a standalone piece, replacing it with a much shorter, dance-like, and definitively lighter-hearted finale — the revised finale we had heard on the first half of the program (which is the last piece of music the composer completed before his death in 1827, aside from various sketches). In their rendition of the Grosse Fuge that concluded the program, the JSQ lost some of the focus that had made Op. 130 so riveting. Perhaps this was in itself an interpretive choice, but to this listener the unrelenting, raw thrust of Beethoven’s writing gave way to unexpectedly smoother edges.

Filed under: chamber music, review, string quartet

Tan Dun’s Buddha Passion

Composer Tan Dun (Courtesy of Tan Dun)

I wrote in advance about this week’s visit to Seattle Symphony by Tan Dun. Thursday night he conducted the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Symphony Chorale, Northwest Boychoir, and guest soloists in a moving performance of his Buddha Passion.

Here are excerpts from my review of the US premiere of Buddha Passion, performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel in 2019:

LOS ANGELES—A signature of Tan Dun’s most successful compositions is his gift for mixing putatively disparate elements into powerfully original amalgams. To make that happen means being able to take serious risks—and the premise behind Buddha Passion is nothing if not bold. The audience’s euphoric reaction at Walt Disney Concert Hall, where the Los Angeles Philharmonic and a cast of guest performers under Gustavo Dudamel gave the United States premiere on February 8, confirmed the tangible impact of Tan’s wildly imaginative gamble here.

Buddha Passion uses the rough outlines of the Christian Passion oratorio as a vehicle to explore the life and teachings of the Buddha. Tan drew inspiration specifically from the Mogao Caves outside the northwestern Chinese city of Dunhuang. These encompass over a millennium’s worth of murals and sculpture relating to Buddhism as well as artifacts that even contain evidence about the music of this period. xx`

It’s fitting that Dunhuang was an ancient Silk Road outpost, since, on multiple levels, Buddha Passion stages a meeting place for diverse cultural phenomena: not only between the Passion format of the Christian West and Buddhism but between the Western orchestra/chorus and a Chinese-inflected soundscape, populist folk idioms and innovative “high art,” music, theater, and visual art. 

Tan’s Water Passion from 2000 responded directly to the Christian model, representing a millennial, global perspective on Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. In my view, Buddha Passion’s looser connection to the Passion idea—the composer also conceives of it as an opera—has resulted in a much more compelling work of art that transcends surface novelty and achieves a moving coherence on its own terms.

Over its two hours (including one intermission), Buddha Passion unfolds in six “acts,” each using a famous story associated with the Buddha himself or his teachings and sharing a core message of compassion, underscored by a recurrent chant motif. Tan distributes the voice of the Buddha among his various soloists and the chorus. In the first act, for example, the death of a bird leads Little Prince (sung by mezzo Huling Zhu) on his path to enlightenment. The stories share the clarity and directness of folk tales—such as the Deer of Nine Colors (soprano Sen Guo), a benevolent force who is killed by a man she has saved from drowning (tenor Kang Wang), or a contest of minds in the Zen tale of a woodcutter (bass-baritone Shenyang) whose wisdom awes the Master Monk. Yet from such simple elements and easily recognizable music gestures, Tan has constructed a monumental and richly complex work.

His instrumental resources blend the Western orchestra with an expanded percussion section including Tan’s hallmark “organic” sound sources from water and wood. In one scene, the fantan pipa virtuosa and dancer Chen Yining enchanted by setting the scene for a magnificent palace. 

Tan crafted his own libretto from original sources (a few bits in Sanskrit, the majority in Mandarin), and the LA Master Chorale as well as LA Children’s Chorus were also called on to incorporate Chinese techniques, including extensive glissandi.

Paradise seems never to be as conducive as the stumbling blocks to get there when it comes to inspiring art, and at moments I worried that Tan’s mellifluous, long-limbed melodies would become too syrupy. But context is everything here, and I found the sincerity of these gestures to be enhanced by the enormous variety of stimuli—not only musical—with which Buddha Passion teems, so that these moments served an emotional purpose similar to the directness of the narratives. 

The most powerful foil to potential sentimentality came in the indelible fifth act (“Heart Sutra”), which recounts the tragic meeting between a minstrel monk and Nina, a woman from the West who dies in his arms. With contributions by two indigenous artists taking center stage here—the Mongolian throat singer and Batubagen, also playing erhu, and the singer-actress Tan Weiwei—the intensity of this section made it stand apart as an opera-within-the-passion. Yet it was also brilliantly integrated into the narrative flow Tan had established. 

This passage also underscored the success of another facet of the composer’s fusion in this work: the ability to weave ancient, folk-based music and traditions into his unique language. Elsewhere in Buddha Passion we heard dense harmonic clusters radiating an Ivesian aura while, punctuating the finales of both parts (acts three and six), vibrant, tumultuous dithyrambs of rhythmic energy. This Buddha, when awakened, is not one to go gently into that good night. 

Filed under: review, Seattle Symphony, Tan Dun

An Electrified Concerto Zaps Violin Tradition With Cosmic Fantasy

Pekka Kuusisto was the soloist in Enrico Chapela’s ‘Antiphaser,’ a concerto for electric violin and orchestra, with the Seattle Symphony under Andrew Litton. (Photos by Brandon Patoc)

My review of Enrico Chapela’s new violin concerto, Antiphaser, which Pekka Kuusisto premiered on Thursday with the Seattle Symphony under guest conductor Andrew Litton:

It’s been nearly a year since Thomas Dausgaard’s abrupt departure as the Seattle Symphony’s music director, but the projects initiated under his tenure and delayed by the pandemic continue to make their way to the Benaroya Hall stage. The latest of these is Antiphaser, a concerto for electric violin and orchestra by the Mexican composer Enrico Chapela. Trading his 1709 “Scotta” Stradivari for an electronically amplified instrument, Pekka Kuusisto joined the orchestra to perform the world premiere under the baton of Andrew Litton on Nov. 3….

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Filed under: commissions, review, Seattle Symphony, violinists

El último sueño de Frida y Diego at San Diego Opera

Guadalupe Paz as Frida Kahlo and Alfredo Daza as Diego Rivera; photo credit: Karli Cadel

My review of the world premiere of Gabriela Lena Frank’s new opera about Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, which sets a libretto by Nilo Cruz, is available here at Musical America (no paywall through the weekend):

SAN DIEGO  — At the center of El último sueño de Frida y Diego (The Last Dream of Frida and Diego), Frida Kahlo decides to cross over from the underworld and return to the realm of the living. It’s a conceit that cries out for operatic treatment, and composer Gabriela Lena Frank and librettist Nilo Cruz oblige with an inspired fusion of music and poetry. 

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Filed under: American opera, review, San Diego Opera

Hilary Hahn and Alpesh Chauhan at Seattle Symphony

Hilary Hahn, Alpesh Chauhan and the Seattle Symphony (c) Brandon Patoc

Hilary Hahn and Brahms were the big name draws, but Seattle Symphony’s program introduced a remarkable guest conductor who made a powerful impact.

My review for Bachtrack:

If Hilary Hahn restored a sense of continuity with familiar, and essential, musical values, the audience that packed Benaroya Hall for her return engagement with Seattle Symphony also had a wonderful surprise in store with guest conductor Alpesh Chauhan’s debut …

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Filed under: conductors, review, Seattle Symphony, violinists

John Adams’s Antony and Cleopatra at San Francisco Opera

Gabrielle Beteag as Iras, Amina Edris as Cleopatra, Taylor Raven as
Charmian, and Gerald Finley as Antony

I wrote about John Adams’s latest opera for Musical America:

Filed under: John Adams, review, San Francisco Opera

Moving Nonsense and Beauty from Theatre22

Cast of Nonsense and Beauty (c) Truman Buffet

I can’t recommend Theatre22’s current production highly enough. It marks the West Coast premiere of Scott C. Sickles’s Nonsense and Beauty, a dramatic portrayal of the decades-long love story between novelist E.M. Forster and Bob Buckingham.

Sickles is a welcome discovery for me. Nonsense and Beauty received its world premiere in March 2019 at the Repertory Theatre of Saint Louis. Structured as a mostly linear sequence of brief, cinematic scenes, the play traces the emotional and sexual connections between the lovers from their first encounter during an Oxbridge boat race party in 1930 until after Forster’s death in 1970. The dialogue is gratifyingly stylish and compelling; Sickles occasionally incorporates excerpts from Forster’s prose as well. (The eponymous quote, from , runs: He felt that nonsense and beauty have close connections,—closer connections than Art will allow,—and that both would remain when his own heaviness and his

Sickles is a welcome discovery for me. Nonsense and Beauty received its world premiere in March 2019 at the Repertory Theatre of Saint Louis. Structured as a mostly linear sequence of brief, cinematic scenes, the play traces the emotional and sexual connections between the lovers from their first encounter during an Oxbridge boat race party in 1930 until after Forster’s death in 1970. Aside from a few longueurs that could be clipped, the tempo flows smoothly and is engaging.

The dialogue is gratifyingly stylish, compelling, without pretension; Sickles occasionally incorporates excerpts from Forster’s prose as well. (The eponymous quote, from The Longest Journey, runs: “He felt that nonsense and beauty have close connections,—closer connections than Art will allow,—and that both would remain when his own heaviness and his own ugliness had perished.”)

Based on biographical events, Nonsense and Beauty poignantly, without self-congratulatory hindsight, reimagines the atmosphere of risk-taking, secret intimacy, fear, and life-affirming liberation that surrounded Forster (Eric Mulholland) and his much younger lover, a policeman at that (Russell Matthews). Sickles doesn’t limit himself to the couple’s relationship but also explores the confusion that unfolds when Bob decides to marry May, an independent-minded nurse who has cared for him — and who loves literature, especially Forster’s writing (Jennifer Ewing). What results is a far cry from the stereotypical love triangle but a moving portrayal of the complex web of entanglements and loyalties of an enduring love.

The love story expands to include the circle of Forster’s close friends, represented by the witty, outspoken, and courageously out fellow writer and editor J.R. Ackerley (Hisam Goueli). His mother Lily (Marty Mukhalian), with whom he still lives in the first years of his relationship, observes judgmentally but suppresses her own critique after a certain point.

Corey McDaniel, who is Theatre22’s founder and producing artistic director, does the company proud directing a first-rate cast who each bring an individual stamp to their characters. Thanks to the efficiently Minimalist design, the flash of color provided by a symbolically fraught rosebush is especially effective.

But the achievement is bittersweet, as it seems this is, unexpectedly, Theatre22’s farewell production. I fondly recall the company’s inaugural show from almost a decade ago (also directed by McDaniel). Theatre22 has been a much-needed part of Seattle’s theater ecosystem, so it’s painful to realize all that will vanish. All the more reason not to miss Nonsense and Beauty, which runs at the Seattle Public Theater through October 2.

Filed under: review, theater

Seattle Symphony Continues Its Reunion with Ludovic Morlot

Ludovic Morlot conducting the Seattle Symphony with soloist Jan Lisiecki in Grieg’s Piano Concerto; image (c) Brandon Patoc

Several times during Seattle Symphony’s concert last night, it felt like a time machine had whisked us back a few years to the Ludovic Morlot era. The orchestra reunited with its former music director last weekend on opening night and is continuing the collaboration for the first full concert of the season’s subscription series. And they’ve managed to reactivate something of the chemistry that made their first seasons together so exciting.

You could sense it in the joyful enthusiasm with which they brought to life the opening piece, Tidalwave Kitchen, by Gabriella Smith. For the second time in a row this month, Morlot and the SSO launched a concert with music by a young woman composer inspired by the West Coast’s natural beauty — last Saturday, it was the world premiere of PNW native Angelique Poteat’s  Breathe, Come Together, Embrace. So far as I know, Tidalwave Kitchen marked the first time the SSO has performed music by Smith, who hails from Berkeley and was mentored early on by John Adams. 

In a short introduction onstage, the talented young composer remarked that it was in this piece that she first had the reassurance of arriving at her own voice. Smith wrote it a decade ago, prompted during her student years on the East Coast by intense homesickness for the “beautiful and dramatic landscape of the Northern California coast” where she’d grown up. 

Smith elaborates in her composer’s note on the memories of that landscape that inspired her: “hikes shrouded in fog, tide pooling on the rocky beaches, and sitting by the Pacific listening to the hallucinatory sounds of the ocean, the keening gulls, pounding surf, sizzling of sand and sea foam, drifting in and out of fog and clarity, order and randomness, reality and imagination.” 

The resulting music paints no pretty postcard but is an immersive, sensory-rich orchestral fantasia, unpredictable yet persuasive in its wildly dramatic mood swings. Smith seems to want to embrace the world the way a Mahler born into the 21st century might have set out to do so, using post-Minimalist devices to power up and take flight. 

Fragments of a stable melody (or hymn?) want to coalesce at several points but remain shrouded by the almost-psychedelic haze of Smith’s timbral palette. A raucously festive outburst arrives at the climax, but its brash exuberance spills over into something vaguely ominously manic and then subsides. 

Over the summer, Morlot conducted the San Francisco Symphony in Tidalwave Kitchen, and he elicited palpable excitement from the SSO. It’s one thing to possess the keen musical imagination on display in this music, but Smith also shows a remarkable technical command of the resources of an orchestra, making the piece especially apt as a concert curtain raiser. I hope we get to hear more of her music in Benaroya Hall. 

Morlot will conduct his new orchestra (the Barcelona Symphony) in another piece by Smith later in October. Incidentally: this sought-after composer will be on the panel for the New York Times Events-sponsored seminar A New Climate exploring collective responses to climate change (October 12 in San Francisco).

Raucous, fiery energy likewise abounded in Jan Lisiecki’s account of the competitive folk dancing that drives the finale of Grieg’s Piano Concerto. Returning to the Benaroya stage following his inspired contribution to the opening night concert, Lisiecki approached the familiar concerto from an almost dizzying plenitude of perspectives. 

His variety of tonal colors was spellbinding: the thunderous chords of the massive first movement cadenza thrilled with power and accuracy, while the plaintive trains of the Adagio breathed the poetry of Lisiecki’s most personally inflected Chopin. It was especially nice to hear his rendition of Chopin’s posthumously published Nocturne in C minor as an encore, where he distilled that poetry to its most concentrated essence. I was also struck by the quality of his partnership with Morlot and the orchestra as he responded to the phrasings of individual players, such as the idyllic interlude flutist Jeffrey Barker shaped in the finale. 

The extreme pianissimos Lisiecki drew out of the Steinway foreshadowed the drama whipped up in the second half of the program. Morlot led the SSO in Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony back in 2014 (when it was similarly paired with new music — a piano concerto by Alexander Raskatov). Eight years on, to my ears there is no doubt that his understanding of this music has deepened and darkened. His command of the larger span of Tchaikovsky’s design has strengthened as well. 

The opening lamentation — expressively phrased by bassoonist Luke Fieweger, in one of several outstanding cameos from across the SSO’s ranks — set the terms of the drama as effectively as a memorable establishing shot by a seasoned director. Morlot outlined the long first movement’s disparate sections with a clarity that underscored the emotional polarities of Tchaikovsky’s enigmatic final symphony.

However, I found something lacking in the middle movements. The tricky meter of the second movement waltz came off sounding slack, even a bit sloppy, while the swaggering march in the third movement needed a tighter rein to wield its full irony. But Morlot inspired the most moving playing of the evening in the Requiem-like finale, building by subtraction so that the pitiless subsidence of Tchaikovsky’s conclusion overwhelmed with its negation.

The program will be repeated Friday and Saturday.

Review (c) 2022 by Thomas May. All rights reserved.

Filed under: Ludovic Morlot, pianists, review, Seattle Symphony

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