Composer Alex Berko receives acclaim
On Saturday evening at Sunset Center the Monterey Symphony opened its 73rd season – Sound Waves – with a new work by composer Alex Berko, commissioned in collaboration with the Big Sur Land Trust, entitled Among Waves plus Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 9, “The Great.” This concert has been generously donated by Katharine Comstock, Alyce Nunes and Anita Dunsay (in memory of Richard Dunsay). This program will be repeated Sunday afternoon, October 21, at 3:00 pm, also at Sunset Center
Berko, an outstanding student at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, spent a week in residence at the Glen Deven Ranch in Big Sur, drawing inspiration from the deep beauty of the landscape for inclusion in his new orchestral work. Glen Deven Ranch played a role in the first commission with the Big Sur Land Trust, resulting in Big Sur, the Night Sun by esteemed composer John Wineglass. This evening’s concert was the premier of Alex Berko’s Among Waves, the second work in this series, with Max Bragado-Darman and the Monterey Symphony!
In his program notes Berko states: “While there aren’t any direct musical quotes from Schubert’s symphony in Among Waves, there are a few elements in the piece that are crafted as a tribute to the great composer, and certainly Schubert’s concepts of lyricism and storytelling are deeply embedded in the architecture of this work. It was my intention to create a piece of art that pays homage to the past while simultaneously staring boldly into the future.”
As an added feature to the performance, images of the sea (not static, but forever moving and undulating) were projected above the stage. The images took on a life of their own and were not visibly cued to the music. Whether they were a distraction or an enhancement is an open question each member of the audience would have to decide.
We learned from the printed program that Berko’s new work was in three movements without interruption and were entitled: The Tide, Flowing Even in Stillness and Silver Wall. Since this new work occupied the entire first half of the program, we assumed it might have a duration of 30-40 minutes. Surprise! It was over in 13 minutes, 30 seconds.
Although the Pacific Ocean is one of the quietest, calmest oceans in the world (except, of course, for its occasional violent storms), Berko’s vision rendered in his score projected a mood of ominous agitation with rumbling from the bases against agitated outbursts from the winds, strings and percussion. Eerie and provocative sounds were effectively projected and kept us in suspense about how it would all turn out.
In the the second half of the program containing Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C Major, D.944 (“the Great”), we knew in advance that its duration was going to be somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour. Although on this occasion the length of the performance didn’t earn a new entry in the Guinness book of World Records, it was still over an hour long, and seemed longer — the fault being Schubert’s and not the Monterey Symphony under the direction of Max Bragado-Darman. Our symphony musicians sounded great, and there were many praiseworthy solos from its principals.
Although Schubert’s Symphony No. 9, with its overly extended length tends to outstay its welcome, it has so many glorious moments, and these made the long journey an overall success. The audience gave the musicians a rousing ovation.
The Monterey Symphony treated the audience to a lovely pre-concert reception outside Sunset on the patio. It set a nice welcoming mood for the opening of the new season.