A festive evening, top to bottom

07. Apr. 2006 – A festive evening, top to bottom

 

The Spokane Symphony's concert Friday gave its enthusiastic audience lots to cheer about. The concert was a celebration from start to finish - opening with the premiere of a newly commissioned work, having as soloist one of the world's great musicians, and ending with an encore that acknowledged the orchestra's 60th anniversary.

 

The premiere presented "Purple Prose" by Conrad Pope. The work lived up to its title by its brilliant orchestration and its propulsive energy abetted by conductor Eckart Preu and the symphony's musicians.

 

Pope is a composer who has nearly 20 years experience as a composer, arranger and orchestrator in Hollywood. The skills he honed there enabled him to produce a work that filled the Opera House with the huge quantity of sound we are used to in the theaters at the multiplex - no small challenge since the Opera House eats up sound with the same voracity that a lion might consume a can of tuna.

 

Pope's cinematic style made "Purple Prose" seem familiar. The singing string melodies against a busy background, the piccolo shrieks, the wall of brass sound, the Gershwinesque jazziness and the imaginative use of percussion - all could be traced to the movie blockbusters Pope has worked on. But familiar-sounding or not, "Purple Prose" grabbed your attention and held it.

 

If there is anyone who can make playing the clarinet seem easy, fun and beautiful it is Richard Stoltzman. Who knows how many times he must have played Aaron Copland's Clarinet Concerto - 100 times? 200? In Stoltzman's hands, the Copland concerto had the same wet-on-the page freshness Friday as when Benny Goodman played it first in 1951.

 

The concerto's gentle, slow opening showed just how songfully beautiful Stoltzman could make Copland's angular melodies. And the soloist took impish delight in the shift of gears that takes place in the solo cadenza, where peaceful lyricism gives way to the jazzy swing Goodman was famous for. The finale was a barrage of fast shifting accents that showed Copland's love of Latin American rhythms as well as jazz.

 

Preu and the orchestra of strings, harp and piano were excellent partners to Stoltzman's showmanship and grace.

 

The program had a built-in encore with George Gershwin's foot-tappingly familiar "Walking the Dog," a short piece tossed off for the 1937 movie "Shall We Dance." Stoltzman served it up with the same verve Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers brought to the movie.

 

Paul Hindemith, whose bright star dimmed after his death in 1963, is enjoying something of a resurgence these days. The Hindemith comeback owes a lot to conductors such as Preu who find wit as well as Germanic seriousness in Hindemith's music. Preu brought a light touch and a transparency of sound to Hindemith's formidably titled "Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes by Weber."

 

Hindemith must have had a great time spreading solos around the orchestra for this work. And the Spokane Symphony soloists clearly relished them. I was especially taken with Bruce Bodden's long flute obbligato and the slower moving brass melodies in the andantino and the splashy percussion work in the scherzo.

 

Preu selected "More Tomorrow," one of Pope's songs, as an encore. The song is built around "Happy Birthday" in celebration of the symphony's 60th anniversary. A fitting close for a festive evening

 

 

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