Arthur Post, the conductor-magician who has mixed musical potions for the San Juan Symphony over the last 13 years, stirred a memorable brew last Sunday afternoon. That it was his farewell concert made the concoction all the more meaningful.
Called “Music of the Timeless Spirit,” the concert opened and closed with an emotional rendering of one work, Jean-Philippe Rameau’s elegant, 1763 “Entry of Polyhymnia,” which served as a prelude and benediction. Framing a goodbye by repeating a clear, classical work seemed important to Post’s intention.
Before he turned to the orchestra to begin, Post said, “I want to leave with a thought that has been helpful to me: There are no endings, only beginnings.”
Post proved his point musically by recycling Rameau’s bittersweet, five-minute work. Its quiet, opening motif in the strings, an octave leap followed by a curling descending line, proceeded throughout and seemed to reappear in various guises that followed.
At the outset, Post asked the audience to withhold applause in the first half. The effect of one work flowing into another was seamless. Spanning from the 18th to the 21st century, the progression from Rameau to Alan Hovhaness to Paul Fowler to David Byrne offered a kind of time travel, as promised in the concert’s title.
In the first half, composer and vocalist Fowler performed “Beyond Completely Gone,” the first of three works with the orchestra. Enigmatic, spun with varying vowel sounds and filled with harmonic overtones, the work resembles a Buddhist chant, rising and falling, increasing in intensity and coming to rest at the end.
Fowler remained on stage as a trumpet voluntary plunged the orchestra into the opening movement of David Byrne’s “The Forest,” a 1988 theater piece based on the oldest work of world literature, “Gilgamesh.”
“Ur,” a 13-minute piece, bristled with drama, with Fowler calling, chanting and smiling his way to the triumphant end. Vowel sounds served as text in an overall dramatic structure alternating half-step motifs and big, dance-like 6/8 rhythms for a sense of heightened celebration. Dazzling. Applause erupted.
In the second half, I wish that Post had asked the audience to continue to withhold applause, but he bowed to convention. Consequently, every movement of William Walton’s 1940 arrangement of six Bach works prompted clapping. The magical, seamless effect of music disappeared, but when the world premiere of Fowler’s orchestral work “I’itoi” unfolded, the magic returned.
For 12 minutes, Fowler’s symphonic poem mesmerized the audience. Inspired by Native American creation stories, the piece is haunting, dark and, in a labyrinthine way, could serve as a metaphor for a life’s journey.
This is the second commission in the symphony’s history, both under Post’s leadership. The first was a 2010 work by Farmington’s Sam Cardin.
According to Bev and Bob Danielson, the generous benefactors who made the commission possible, more than a year ago, Post called them and said he wanted to leave the orchestra with a gift of music. Would they help? The Danielsons agreed, and Fowler was asked to compose a work to be performed at Post’s farewell concert.
When Fowler returned to the stage with his own parting gift, “Calling,” he stood alone with a microphone and his computer. He conceived the 2014 piece for voice with computer looping and created it on the spot. The work unfolded like an elaborate fugue, with Fowler building each section with a new musical motif, bringing his multiple, layered voices together at the end.
Finally, Post himself looped back to the beginning of the concert. He led the orchestra through the second ending of Rameau’s elegant work, bookending the concert with those familiar octave leaps and curling descending lines.
It was a gratifying, ritualistic ending for Post’s long, storied and creative tenure.
email@example.com. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, art historian and arts journalist.