North State Symphony teases the season of renewal
The anticipatory theme of the North State Symphony’s latest concert, Leaping Into Spring, was a welcome one on a cold and windy late-winter evening last Saturday (Feb. 25).
The program opened with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden Suite, composed in 1895. Comprising four movements, the suite started elegantly with its “Beautiful Spring” introduction, in which the flowing orchestral swirls of the deeper strings and horns contrasted and complemented the more delicate melodies of the flutes, woodwinds and violins, evoking the awakening of spring thaw after the deep coldness of winter.
The second movement’s “Dance of the Birds” musically depicted just that, with piccolos, oboes, flutes and bassoons simulating chirping and soaring flights of avian joy. This led into the more dramatic “Procession of the Tsar Berendey” movement, in which the orchestration became more forceful, with hints of majestic menace in the booming of tympani, clash of cymbals and deep thrumming of bass and brass embellished by trumpet fanfares. Contrasting with that mood, but equally energetic, the closing “Dance of the Clowns” employed much the same instrumentation to conjure the essence of a dance celebrating the arrival of spring with a resoundingly joyful crescendo.
Libby Larsen’s Dancing Man Rhapsody followed. Commissioned by the Eureka Symphony with its concertmaster, Terrie Baune, as soloist, it’s a tour de force of Larsen’s strengths as a writer whose skill at orchestration and musical wit encompass and entwine forms from classical to modern popular music. The 15-minute concerto showcased the incredible virtuosity of featured violinist Baune (who is also concertmaster for the North State Symphony), but also featured a fantastic performance by percussionist Dwayne Corbin, who played everything from congas to triangle, vibraphone, snare drum, tambourine and cymbals.
And the full orchestra brought wonderful life to sections of Larsen’s piece with such self-explanatory titles as “A Sudden Conga,” “A Minute Waltz,” “Backwards in High Heels” and “Dancin’ With Kravitz,” and the audience responded with enthusiasm—proof that contemporary orchestral composition is alive and kicking.
Preceding a brief intermission, Music Director Scott Seaton gave the audience the evening’s prompt for texting a question to any member of the symphony. The highlight of that audience participation was witnessing a young lady who asked, “Does every movement of the conductor have a meaning?” be invited onto the conductor’s podium and—guided a bit by Seaton—lead the symphony via a few simple gestures. A very charming moment.
The third piece, David Biedenbender’s Schism, was composed during the contentious midterm elections of 2010, and the composer did his best, as Seaton put it, “to imagine the sound of the political process.” One would expect something discordant and bombastic, and the piece evoked those feelings with heavy drums and blaring brass, but the composition also explored more subtle evocations of uncertainty and moments of unified harmony within its seven fully packed minutes. I was reminded of some of Frank Zappa’s late period compositions.
The final and, at slightly over 30 minutes, longest performance of the evening returned to the classical period for Robert Schumman’s 1841 Symphony No. 1, aka the Spring Symphony. Inspired by a poem about springtime, the composer created a symphony that he told the original conductor of the piece should “breathe a little of the longing of spring into your orchestra.”
Seaton and the North State Symphony obviously took that admonition to heart. The complexities of the interwoven melodic themes and delicately nuanced dynamic shifts of volume, engaging and focusing on each section of the orchestra, provided a living demonstration of how a diverse group, united by a concerted effort, can produce something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Kind of like all of the elements of astronomy, climates and culture unite each year to leap into spring.