If music could ever evoke the storms of resignation, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony would. Composed at the end of his life, the massive four-movement work rises and falls in an almost unbearable struggle with fate.
On Sunday, Arthur Post unleashed the San Juan Symphony’s powerful weather demons and delivered a triumphant performance of the composer’s almost frightening masterpiece.
The 50-minute gargantua filled the last half of the program in the Community Concert Hall. Complex, compelling and profoundly a product of the Romantic Era, Tchaikovsky’s music unspooled sadness, despair and finally resignation. Throughout, Post also emphasized flashes of light, lyricism and open air, especially in the beguiling third movement, a waltz. It didn’t dance by, however, without distant echoes of the Fate theme, but the waltz gave respite to an overall darkness.
The orchestra traversed the final movement with confidence – the Fate motif returning and asserting its ultimate power. With breathtaking full stops, Post led the orchestra through a very fast, extended coda, to arrive at a surprising restatement of the early despairing motif turning unexpectedly into triumphant acceptance.
As if starving for an experience of grandeur, the audience responded with an immediate, very loud and energetic standing ovation – I among them. Standing ovations have become commonplace, but you can tell the difference between polite, delayed, perfunctory or genuinely enthusiastic. This ovation was not only well earned, it was deeply expressive. Post got it and took time acknowledging every soloist and each section as the applause continued.
Sunday’s concert turned out to be what people want from a regional orchestra – interesting, varied, featuring an engaging soloist and offering something new and something familiar. Above all, I think concert audiences want to experience greatness and be reminded of the deepest human emotions. Tchaikovsky’s symphony provided the platform for all that.
So did Mozart’s Second Flute Concerto, performed with bright assurance by Yossi Arnheim. Principal flutist with the Israel Philharmonic, he has known Post since the conductor’s tenure as associate under Zubin Mehta.
Inviting Arnheim to the Four Corners, Post made a wise programming decision to put Mozart’s Enlightenment clarity and order in the center of the concert. He, Arnheim and the orchestra explored the crystal beauty of Mozart’s music in perfect synchronicity. Joyous reason cleansed the air in the center of an otherwise highly emotional afternoon.
For an overture, the orchestra presented a new work by Liam Ramsey-White, age 17. Raised in Durango and now a student at the Denver School of the Arts, the violinist and composer sat in the concertmaster’s chair to perform the first movement of his first symphony. “Camping” evoked Romantic tone poems in its variety of musical pictures: a lively scene of arrival, a dreamy lyrical section and a return to urgency, discovery – even play. Post easily shaping phrases and shifting tempi and dynamics to complete a tonal painting of young people on an adventure. The 11-minute work served as a perfect introduction to an unusual concert.
After the flute concerto, Arnheim returned to perform what might have been a first for the orchestra: a classical Turkish work by Mesut Cemil Bey. Adapted for a Western orchestra, “Samai Nahawand” turned out to be a haunting rendezvous with Middle Eastern sounds and rhythms. The orchestra played the 10-minute work, circling through unison lines and repeated passages as Arnheim’s flute soared over the strings, various percussion instruments and Erik Teixeira’s Arabic lute. The lute’s drone effect could be heard throughout, and the audience erupted with enthusiasm, presumably for the beauty and the newness of the sound as well as an accomplished performance.
After intermission, who would have expected a profound journey through resignation to acceptance? Perhaps no one. But it’s my belief audiences not only want to experience something new and something familiar, but we also hunger for grandeur.
email@example.com. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic.