The most recent Utah Symphony concert once again showcased an eclectic, compact and innovative approach to programming which, in this case, delivered the orchestra’s first performances of two works from 1998 and 2011. , respectively.
Smart staging logistics enabled Elliott Carter’s rapid transition Double threesome, which the composer wrote just before his 103rd birthday in 2011, and five selections from Wynton Marsalis’ A history of a violinist, a jazz-inflicted tribute to Igor Stravinsky The story of the soldier.
Indeed, the precautions related to the pandemic produced pleasant bonuses because otherwise these two small-scale works would probably not be programmed in a concert in the Abravanel Hall.
As a conductor, Thierry Fischer set the tone for many delicious moments. Carter’s piece, which premiered 10 years ago at a concert at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in honor of a new concert hall, is an excellent introduction for listeners coming to to discover the prodigious production of this composer.
Eight minutes long, the piece represents Carter’s signature style of rationalizing and juxtaposing Impressionism, Neo and Retro-Expressionism, and Modernism in a compelling exploration of fragile textures but also resilient structures of sound. The combination of solo strings with trumpet and trombone could disrupt an ensemble’s efforts to balance the writing, which exudes the aesthetic of vulnerability as the music weaves its way through various harmonic structures and textures. But, Fischer leads the whole to very satisfactory results. The best moments pit the muted brass against the effects of stringed instruments such as slamming pizzicato and double stops with a strumming sound. Granted, at 103, Carter got to the point clearly and quickly.
Marsalis’s piece uses the same septet instrumentation as Stravinsky’s work. Students of musical history know the piece Stravinsky, based on a Russian folk tale and written during World War I, as one of the earliest expressions of jazz in a modern classical piece. The movements of the piece Marsalis are parallel to its predecessor. Like Stravinsky, Marsalis incorporated a libretto (written by Stanley Crouch) but it is omitted for this performance. If the music is not as pioneering as in Stravinsky’s play, it is nonetheless rich in imagining the characters and the story to their own merit. It’s a miniature showcase for musicians and the flared swing to jazz in the latest pick rolls out with the right punch.
As a bookends for this concert, there was Concerto for two violins and Wagner Idyll of Siegfried. Madeline Adkins and Claude Halter shine as soloists in a reading that cut off at sufficiently brisk tempos, which effectively lightened the ensemble to produce an exquisite balance between soloists and strings and harpsichord. Fischer’s lead role in the Wagner classic produced the sumptuous sounds that will surely draw audiences into the hall when full symphonic forces finally return to the stage next season.
These concerts, which last a little over an hour and without an intermission, were programmed with good objectives. They present the audience with informative blends of classical favorites and less familiar contemporary repertoire, eliciting a wide appreciation of the stylistic and aesthetic ranges. In addition, they reinforce the prevailing judgment on the exceptional musicality of the Symphony, which progressed considerably under Fischer’s tenure.
For more information on the May concerts, see the Utah Symphony website.