On Friday, August 11, at the Civic, Maestro Macelaru and the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra performed four fine works of diverse character. The West Coast Premiere of William Bolcom’s (1938) Symphony No. 9 (2012) opened the evening’s concert. In a conversation with friends about this work, Bolcom mentioned that this symphony would round off his composition of symphonies. The list of composers who composed nine symphonies and no more, is extensive: Beethoven, Schubert, Dvorak, Spohr, Bruckner, Mahler, Vaughn Williams and the list goes on. The “curse of the 9th Symphony” has been attributed to Arnold Schoenberg and began with Gustav Mahler, who after having composed his Eighth Symphony composed Das Lied von der Erde, structurally in symphonic form, then composed his ninth symphony, but no more.
A quiet string opening, alluding to Beethoven (with perhaps a touch of Mahler), began this well orchestrated work. Additional thematic material followed in the brass, winds and timpani. In turn the orchestra carried forth with a fast violin entry, brass and winds in counterpoint with the piano answering. After a brief trumpet solo, a bouncy thematic idea opened in the violins with clarinet and more strings with a slow response. Macelaru guided the orchestra to its end by returning to the slow opening introduction — a solid performance to be sure.
Piano Concerto (2012 – U.S. Premiere) by Irish composer Gerald Barry (1952), featuring pianist Jason Hardink was described by the composer as an “opera” of sorts with conversations and dialogues between people — of course in this case between instruments and specific orchestra families. Musical ideas developed rather quickly with a deep bass piano entry opening dialogue with musical dialogues continuing in a variety of combinations: solo major and diminished piano scales and arpeggios answered by brass in turn, then answered by strings imitating the brass (typical conversation) plus loud forearm clusters on a grand piano answered by loud clusters on a spinet piano in mechanical fashion, returning later, but at a softer dynamic level. The work became more interesting with musical “chatter,” sort of similar to that occurring in too many CNN group conversations, but of course lacking any musical content. The work kept growing on the audience and developing into an ever more interesting musical experience.
Con Brio (2008) by Joerg Widmann (1973) focused on thematic material from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, which Widmann accomplished with style and musical creativity. As Maestro Macelaru said, one could think of this as a “Beethoven Roast” in which Widmann introduced “teaser” samples of the symphony, modified and integrated with orchestrational cleverness and creativity. The work had many unusual effects including blowing air-like sounds produced on the brass instruments by removing the mouth piece. Also many interesting string effects were blended into the textures with the piccolo playing in its highest register contrasting with the timpani employing a rhythmic drone affect. Marcelaru balanced these effects so well with the varied orchestra textures that the audience enjoyed the work and responded with a huge applause.
Symphony No. 1: Ballet for Orchestra (2002) by Cindy McTee (1953) contained four movements: Introduction: On with the Dance; Adagio: Till Silence fell; Waltz: Light Fantastic and Finale: Where Time Plays the Fiddle. McTee employed jazz and dance ideas from life and later borrowed musical ideas from Beethoven, Ravel and Stravinsky, all blended into the orchestra with perfection. The impressive “tutti” orchestral opening led into a moment of rhythmic string playing and a return to the “tutti” full orchestra texture. There were moments in which the contrabassoon, with its magnificent presence in the low register made a delightful, colorful exchange with the strings. A three-note motif hinting at Beethoven’s monumental 4-note motif from his Symphony No. 5 rode on top of a continuous rhythmic idea that passed around the orchestra sections. The piano entered in a jazz big band moment with percussive touches on the brass and harp accenting the texture. Once again the delightful sound of the contrabassoon left its indelible mark on the texture.
The slow section commenced by introducing a quasi silent, somber, introspective string mood with a distant feel of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” Well orchestrated and balanced dynamically, the third movement began with a seven note musical idea in which whistle, bass drum matched with the tuba to create a pulse, and contrabassoon made another appearance complete with touches of Ravel’s “La Valse” accompanied by piano. All o this made for a most enjoyable musical experience.
The final movement opened with dense, lush orchestral textures complete with a “walking bass” line that developed into creative jazz-like mood. Bursts from the brass wound down to the opening rhythmic texture. This work demonstrated Cindy McTee’s superb compositional ability, all thoroughly enjoyed by the audience!