Naples Daily News
February 17, 2017
When you start looking at the Dvorak Symphony No. 8 as party food, your concert program is a little unbalanced.
At least that's the way it seemed Thursday night at Artis-Naples, where the Masterworks Series offered up works spanning the last three centuries and a raft of emotions from mourning to ebullience. We're not running from the first condition as much as we'd like to have made lamentation more accessible, even recognizable, in the featured, "Beautiful Passing." The 24-minute-long work, written in 2008, is best described as a two demi-concertos connected by a violin cadenza. Composer Steven Mackey's metaphor is his mother's death, which she told her son to tell the family was "a beautiful passing."
Yet we are getting much more of Mackey's state during his mother's last hours here, we fear. The cacophony that guest artist Jennifer Koh was fighting with her steadfast violin statements registered turmoil more than the present state of mind and memories that guest conductor Eric Jacobsen suggested the audience listen for. Wisps of jazz from the horns, cat laments from the trombones and a dogfight from the flutes create a state of mind with images but no joy.
And then there is what occasionally sounds like an orchestral traffic jam, intentional but confusing. To top the challenge of selling this piece, Naples is located a little closer to the Pearly Gates than most cities, and most of us don't want to envision our earthly exit in this frame of mind. That possibly informed the polite but cool applause.
To her credit, Koh was focused through the work; she stayed in the piece, swaying even while she waited for her violin entrances. The Naples Philharmonic and Jacobsen, who is music director of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, gave it full immersion as well; we'd love to have had a 45-degree orchestra cam aimed at the stage so the audience could have appreciated the work involved.
That would have also let us see the more exotic instruments being used in "Beautiful Passing" — Peking Opera gongs, which have a bending tone; the flexatone, which emits a clanking ring that can rise in pitch according to the position of the instrument's metal tongue; and crotales, a bank of tiny, tuned cymbals. Few of the audience can see these, and it might help to at least have photos with explanatory text in the lobby of Hayes Hall. A bit of education can help mightily with appreciation.
The opening "Metamorphosen," written by an aging Richard Strauss, was the instrumental opposite of "Beautiful Passing"; the Strauss was played entirely with strings. That — along with its employment of the bass as melodic instrument rather than a rhythmic one — tended to dampen its emotional ascendance. The history behind the German composer's state of mind following the bombings of Munich, Dresden and Weimar in his home country of Germany makes for a solemn study, and it has moments that shimmer; even its elegaic opening ushers in a restrained theme of surrender.
This work, strangely, seems to lighten in effect somewhat when its tempo is faster; the slower reading from Jacobsen and the Naples Philharmonic emphasized the darkness in Strauss' mind. Still, it has moments that shimmer, and an elegant exchange between the concertmaster Glenn Basham and principal cello Adam Satinsky.
After the intermission came the Dvorak, striding in on a precision cello theme in minor tones that will return, eventually elevated into major tones by the end of the work. There's brilliance all over the first movement with its brass section as occasional stars. The second romps through bird-call evocations and recurring cello measure that — sorry, we are a product of the TV generation here — was surely borrowed as a hook for "The Addams Family" theme.
A moody third-movement waltz helps usher in the high-stepping finale with fanfare, flutter-tonguing on the brass and a buoyant flute solo from Suzanne Kirton. The work was rise-up-and-sway fun the entire way. And if Jacobsen's spirited attention with the baton Thursday night was any sign, the orchestra, as well as the audience, was having a blast.
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17
Where: Hayes Hall, Artis—Naples, 5833 Pelican Bay Blvd., North Naples
Tickets: $15 to $72
To buy: artisnaples.org or 239-597-1900 or at the box office
Something else: Ticketholders for Masterworks series can enjoy free admission to the adjacent Baker Museum, which is open until 8 p.m. the day of the concert
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