Mystery. Beauty, Virtuosity. Grandeur. That’s what the San Juan Symphony served Saturday night at the opening concert of the season.
Music Director Arthur Post offered a program brimming with Romantic classics, a surreal new work and what Post described as “the greatest piece ever written” – Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67. Post explained why by describing the intense musical and psychological journey the symphony undertakes. When it occurred to him such a claim could spark unintended consequences, he said: “I hope you’ll come to all the other concerts this year. It’s not over.”
With this disclaimer and his hefty introduction, Post turned to the orchestra, waited for the hall to quiet and vigorously seared through the first movement with its famous “gut-wrenching” opening. In the second movement, he exploited the contrasts between pastoral beauty and heroic fanfare. Then he threaded the orchestra through the labyrinthine tunnels of darkness and light to the unexpected arrival of the big C Major chords that usher in the finale. And just when you thought things might wind down, Post quickened the pace and brought the gigantic musical scaffolding to its great, celebratory conclusion.
At first, the audience seemed stunned but quickly stood, whistling and hollering approval.
Programming is an art form, and Post has a gift for taking an audience on an emotional journey full of peaks and caves.
Saturday night’s concert opened in the murky darkness of a new work recalibrated for the San Juan Symphony. Paul Haas’ “Dream” is a nine-minute plume of music. The composer, Post told the audience, reconfigured a longer work for our regional orchestra. The conductor briefly explained the minimalist structure – repeated musical cells and indeterminate rhythms. Then a reduced orchestra, mostly strings and a few winds, played the effervescent, eerie piece. It evoked a half-awake state of mind. As performed, “Dream” appeared and disappeared in a cloud of sound.
The surreal overture set an amorphous platform for the three Romantic violin pieces that followed.
A favorite of Durango audiences, violinist Odin Rathnam returned to a warm welcome and pumped some full-bodied hemoglobin into the concert. Rathnam beautifully rendered works by Saint-Saëns and Massenet. The latter’s “Meditation” from the opera “Thais” floated out over an audience ready to bask in the warmth of its familiar lyrical sweetness.
The two Saint-Saëns works contrasted the composer’s delicate version of a Spanish Habanera with the highly virtuosic “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso,” again comfortably familiar and absolutely dazzling in Rathnam’s quicksilver hands.
One might have expected a light but expansive symphonic work to conclude the evening. But Post went for the powerhouse – Beethoven’s Fifth. No matter how many times one hears it, on a recording, or luckily in a concert hall, it’s all that Post says it is – possibly the greatest piece ever written.
email@example.com. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, art historian and arts journalist.