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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 7, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 40
New crowd, new music at SSO
Arts & Entertainment
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New crowd, new music at SSO

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Seattle Symphony
October 1
Benaroya Hall


Almost as exciting as the music was the audience that showed up for Saturday's performance of the Seattle Symphony under its new music director, Ludovic Morlot. I would guess that the people under 30 outnumbered those older. White hair was definitely in the minority. It's amazing how quickly Morlot has found his audience! Although the house was not full, it was already much better sold than the previous week, and this in spite of, or perhaps because of, a program of entirely modern music! I am certain that the same program last season would have played to a half-empty house or less.

This younger audience loved everything, and for good reason. Even Gershwin's 'An American in Paris,' which I was hearing for the third time in three weeks, was noteworthy for the degree to which it had improved over the earlier performances, which were by no means shoddy. Indeed, it was so finely honed, so rapturous in its jazzy swing, so unrestrained in its expression of joy by way of perfect orchestral sonorities & well, it was enough to make you want to shout, as indeed many in the audience did! If this was an indication of how the SSO will sound when it gets really familiar with its new leader, we are in for some great nights!

The evening opened with Stravinsky's monumental 'The Rite of Spring.' This was an earth-shaking performance, one for which 'Hold on to your seats!' would be appropriate. When the Lyon Orchestra brought the same piece to Benaroya several seasons ago, I was surprised and overwhelmed by the lush orchestration, by the sheer beauty of the work. That aspect was somewhat lost this time and was replaced by bite, energy, and power. I would have a hard time picking which version I preferred.

Having never had the opportunity to hear Edgard Varèse's 'Amériques' live, I was amazed at the size of the orchestra employed. Listening to my old LP, I found the textures generally so light and transparent that I did not dream that the orchestra included a heckelphone (so long it reminded me of an alpenhorn!), eight horns, six trumpets, three trombones, a bass trombone, a contrabass trombone, two tubas, two harps, and a huge percussion section, among others. As a college student, I found the piece difficult to get into because I couldn't get over the strangeness of the siren's comments throughout.

Before he began, Morlot charmed the audience with some remarks about the piece, ending with the invitation to let the music happen and either love it or hate it. Under Morlot, the work didn't seem so strange after all. In fact, it was a great deal of fun, and the audience loved it. It was almost as if, having been given permission to hate it, the audience was enabled to be more open to Varèse's freedom from musical traditions. Morlot really knows how to 'sell' a song!

As new-sounding as the Varèse was, it contained an amazing number of references to Stravinsky's 'Rite,' including opening with the same high note from the solo bassoon. Throughout we heard themes, rhythmic patterns, and sonorities that were slightly transformed quotes from the great ballet. Indeed, it seemed that the ghost of Stravinsky, lurking behind the music, was a primary unifying element. Varèse used the huge orchestra with such skill that the approximately 25 minutes held our interest in a grip that could not be denied. Often the textures were almost delicate, but by the end we heard giant tuttis that shook the rafters. The young audience roared its approval.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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