Symphony frames new music with classics

Arts & Entertainment

Symphony frames new music with classics

The good ship Lollapalooza sailed Saturday night with 135 singers and 47 orchestral musicians on board. By numbers alone, singers could have swamped the San Juan Symphony, but they didn’t. So well prepared by their various directors and so confidently conducted by Arthur Post, Mozart’s Requiem closed the concert in crystalline splendor.

Composed as a Latin Mass for the Dead, the massive, 55-minute work concluded a stirring concert of unlikely cabinmates – J. S. Bach, Canadian Tim Brady and his tribute to Rocker Kurt Cobain, and Mozart himself.

Subtitled “Dread, Redemption, Nirvana,” the concert delivered on its promise to tie-in familiar classics with popular music. In this case, the Brady work didn’t bring rock ’n’ roll into the Fort Lewis College Community Concert Hall, but it offered a disturbing meditation on unexpected, youthful death. “Three or Four Days After the Death of Kurt Cobain” became the intense inner core of a deeply gratifying concert.

Post opened the evening with a reduced version of Bach’s Orchestral Suite No.3, performing the first, second and fifth movements.

A hesitant start quickly shifted into a confident morning fanfare, the brightly written Overture. Marc Reed’s trumpet and Jonathan Latta’s timpani punched energy into the opening section, and Post didn’t hurry the fugue that followed.

The familiar Air for G-string gave the violins an opportunity to sing. The audience seemed to take a deep breath and relax. Leaving the Gavotte and Bourée aside, Post stepped lightly into the final movement, the Gigue, and brought the work to a stately closure.

Bach requires precision, and it was a challenge to include young musicians in the scaffolding. The annual side-by-side performance welcomed fewer students than in the past. Ten student musicians joined professional colleagues for Bach’s structural dynamics.

For the new-to-the-ear Brady work, Post wisely asked musicians to play excerpts. Cellist Katherine Jetter played the short, descending half-note motif, the central theme of the piece. The upper strings illustrated pulsating anxiety, and vibraphone, bells, and harp fleshed out other fragile compositional bones.

Originally written for cello and piano, “Three or Four Days After the Death of Kurt Cobain” has been fully orchestrated allowing the central cello motif to act as a repeated lament.

The title is worth noting as the nine-minute work is not so much a tribute or memorial, as Post suggested, but an emotional record of the composer’s bewilderment on learning of Cobain’s suicide.

The rawness of the writing, the cello’s insistent sigh, the violins’ tense agitation, and periodic percussion riffs evoked sadness mixed with disbelief. Brady’s unusual work brought something new to the audience – a record of grief more than an elegy.

After intermission, Mozart’s Requiem set a brilliant contrast to Brady’s raw, unfocused mood. Emotion distilled through reason and high classical form, the Requiem received a clear and elegant reading by the orchestra, soloists, and chorus. Cut glass.

Composed to be performed in a church, Mozart’s Latin Mass established one musical structure after another with distinct silences between. Post let the music ring then paused with a deep silence before setting forth on a new section. Within movements, Post confidently managed a multitude of tempo and dynamic changes. Cut glass.

Choral writing dominates the long work. Singers from the Durango Choral Society were joined by Farmington’s Caliente and the Telluride Choral Society for a massed choir of 135 voices. Attention to clear articulation, unified vowels, and especially dynamic nuance turned this huge group into a single entity.

The combined choruses responded to the subtlest of Post’s directions, and only a few fast tempo changes took a while to focus. On the whole, this was a splendid collaboration.

Soprano Gemma Kavanagh, mezzo Gemma Coma-Alabert, tenor Brian Leatherman, and bass-baritone Peter van de Graaff ably performed, but their overall contribution remained secondary to the masses of sound and fury presented by the chorus.

Near the end, the gorgeous Lacrymosa (full of tears) soared in a lyrical way that the languid beauty of Bach’s Air did in the first half.

The concert ended with an energetic rendering of Cum Sancto Spiritu (with the Holy Spirit), a bright fugue set forth by chorus and orchestra to celebrate the triumph of life and the restoration of order.

For all its darkness, this concert had its share of radiant light.

Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at


“Dread, Redemption, Nirvana,” San Juan Symphony, Arthur Post, music director, works by Mozart, Bach, and Brady, Saturday, Nov. 10, Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College.

Symphony frames new music with classics

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