A large and appreciative audience of all ages poured into the M-CHS auditorium on Sunday afternoon to hear, for the second time in 12 months, the San Juan Symphony and guest violinist Odin Rathnam.
Maestro Arthur Post is conducting his 12th and final season with the SJS, and Sunday marked the opening show of their 2014-15 season as well as the first show of SouthWest Colorado Concerts new season.
Dream sequences, Spanish dances, spiritual conversion, and revolutionary reinvention took turns on stage during the thoughtfully balanced program that was delivered by the 65 musicians, one virtuoso violinist, and their dashing conductor.
After Post’s introduction to the opening piece, “Dream” by contemporary composer Paul Haas, I worried that the music would be atonal and inaccessible, but fortunately that was not the case. The strings pulsed their heartbeats in a seductive and hypnotic sonic landscape with shifting dissonances, evoking lucid dreaming, a dream state in which one is aware of dreaming. The overall effect was successful despite a slightly awkward transition between the first and second movements. The ending was transcendent as the strings shimmered themselves into nonexistence, and silence became the final note of the piece.
Odin Rathnam, a seasoned and prodigious performer, returned to the Cortez stage to perform three short works: two by French composer Camille Saint-Saens in a Spanish style, and the famous “Meditation” from the opera Thais by Frenchman Jules Massenet. Rathnam, a flamboyant showman and technical wizard endeared himself to the Cortez audience last year when he performed a flashy violin concerto by Max Bruch. Sunday’s trio of pieces were lovely, alternating between heartbreaking melody played with a sonority and resonance worthy of his 1755 Italian Calvarola violin and blistering fingerwork required for the faster portions of Saint-Saens’ “Havanaise” and “Rondo and Cappriccioso.” Especially noteworthy was his ability to play exceedingly high on the fingerboard with a deceptive effortlessness, and his gorgeous harmonic overtones that were enough to raise the hair on the back of the neck.
Although Rathnam’s performance was polished and expressive, I felt that he was holding something back. Had I not seen him perform before, I would not have been aware of it, but this lacked intimacy. Last year’s performance seemed more about the artist; Sunday’s performance seemed more about what the instrument was capable of doing. Music involves so much giving away of oneself during a performance, and I wanted more of the artist.
The program, part 2
The second half the program featured the iconic 5th Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven, a titan among composers, refused to be boxed in by the confinement of convention. In his more mature works like the 5th, he transformed the existing symphonic template with his daring explorations into thematic development and unrestrained self-expression, changing the symphonic trajectory forever. Stuffed full of compositional innovations and brimming with originality, the symphony is cast in four distinct, yet thematically connected, movements which demand the full capabilities of an orchestra.
Beginning with a solid delivery of the famed first four notes, Post led his players with confidence through the maze of motivic development, fragmentation, and disintegration in the first movement as it wrestles between the minor and major modes. The low strings played as one voice, beautifully resonant with excellent intonation, while the upper strings lacked similar unity in places. The two French horns provided an authoritative horn call in the movement’s second theme while the woodwinds had a couple shaggy entrances in various places.
The second movement which features double variations, culminated in a glorious coming together of the movement’s two themes. The orchestra responded to its conductor with a magnificent full forte.
In the third movement, a scherzo with a middle contrasting section, I felt the orchestra finally hit its stride. From the arpeggiated beginning to the snarling return of the rhythmic motive from the first movement, to the Bach-like fugue, to the slow and extraordinary transition from darkness which concludes the movement into the light of the fourth and final movement, Post and his orchestra breathed life into Beethoven’s symphonic narrative, convincing us that death and despair can be overcome by life and hope.
The sonic celebration of the fourth movement’s triumphant and martial theme was thrilling. Here was Beethoven in all his swagger and glory. Following the extended closing cadence, the audience stood and cheered as Post had each section of this hard-working orchestra stand up and take its bow.
Post’s introductions before each piece helped to frame our understanding of what we were about to hear. As easy as it could be to strike a professional distance from his audience, Post was engaging and informative, with no hint of pretension. We thank him for that.
“Art demands that we never stand still” said Beethoven. Perhaps these are fitting words as we bid farewell to a man of music, Arthur Post. We wish him well and thank him for bringing his gifts to our community.
What lies ahead
The good news, however, is that the San Juan Symphony plans to return to Cortez in 2015 according to SouthWest Colorado Concerts Board President Joyce Stevenson. Until then, we can look forward to the remainder of this season.
The next show will be singer, pianist and songwriter Tony DeSare performing with his jazz combo on Thursday, Nov. 20 at 7 p.m.