The passion and joy born of tribulation

16. Apr. 2012 – We all suffer; it is an inescapable fact of human life. Disappointment, toil and loss give shape to our lives, as do love, joy and achievement.

Only a few of us, however, can transmute such sufferings into works of art that not only give comfort to their creator, but solace, guidance and inspiration to those around them, and perhaps to many who come after.

Three such works of musical art were given voice on Saturday night by the Spokane Symphony Orchestra in the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, under the baton of music director Eckart Preu. Two were much-loved staples of the repertoire: “From Bohemia’s Woods and Meadows,” by Bedrich Smetana, and Symphony No. 6 in B minor Op. 74, “Pathetique,” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The third is a work of our own time: the Marimba Concerto Op. 25, by the Serbian composer and percussionist Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic, who performed brilliantly in the concerto’s demanding solo part.

In his pre-concert remarks, Zivkovic remained vague as to the precise sufferings expressed in his concerto. Although the excellent booklet notes by Joseph and Elizabeth Kahn provide a program for the piece, it certainly does not explain the work’s ferocious urgency and intensity. The Zivkovic concerto is a magnificent work, fully worthy to be ranked beside the concertos of Bela Bartok, Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich as a 20th-century masterpiece of the genre; Saturday’s performance, was, in turn, fully worthy of the piece. With the exception of one or two fleeting ensemble problems, the players of the Spokane Symphony performed as though they had known it all their lives.

As Zivkovic is acknowledged around the globe as a master of his instrument, it goes without saying that the writing for the marimba is dazzling. That such colors and such expressivity can be achieved by striking pieces of wood with a mallet is a constant wonder.

It must be said, however, that Zivkovic’s mastery of the orchestra is no less complete, and allows him to express feelings of conflict, anxiety and exultation that strike deep within the listener. Knitting together its complex texture is a spine of motoric rhythm. Not surprisingly, the percussion section plays a major role, which was dispatched brilliantly by timpanist Adam Wallstein, and percussionists Paul Raymond and Rick Westrick, among others.

Perhaps because there was so challenging a work as the Zivkovic on the program, Preu and his orchestra approached the works by Smetana and Tchaikovsky as though the ink were hardly dry, with all the passion, intensity and imagination of a world premiere.

We last heard the orchestra in the Tchaikovsky “Pathetique” in 2006 in a performance of melancholy tenderness. On Saturday night, however, passion boiled up from the heart of the piece like lava from a volcano. The cloud of brooding desperation hung even over the second and third movements, commonly regarded as cheerful and positive. At the conclusion, the audience rose and cheered, not out of duty, but out of necessity: One could not remain seated after such an experience.


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