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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 19, 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 51
You make me feel so young, SSO
Arts & Entertainment
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You make me feel so young, SSO

by Alice Bloch - SGN Contributing Writer

SEATTLE SYMPHONY
WITH GUEST CONDUCTOR
MIRGA GRA}INYTE-TYLA
& SOLOIST JOSHUA ROMAN
BENAROYA HALL
December 11


Mirga Gra~inyte-Tyla. Remember that name, even if you can't pronounce it. (I certainly can't.) The 28-year-old Lithuanian, recently appointed Assistant Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, made a smashing impression as guest conductor of three Seattle Symphony Orchestra (SSO) concerts last week. At the concert I attended, her movements were elegant and efficient, and - most important - her direction elicited a top-notch performance from the orchestra.

The centerpiece of the concert was the world premiere of Mason Bates' Cello Concerto, with soloist Joshua Roman, an insanely talented musician who is well-known in Seattle. At age 22 he was named principal cello of SSO, and he spent two years in that position before embarking on a successful solo career, which includes composing and conducting as well as playing. He is now Artistic Director of the innovative TownMusic series at Seattle Town Hall.

Bates wrote his concerto (co-commissioned by SSO, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and Columbus Symphony) specifically for Roman, with whom he has collaborated on a number of musical projects. The concerto fully exploits Roman's technical prowess, in a way that is both serious and playful. In a pre-concert talk, Bates mentioned one passage in which the cellist 'ping-pongs' (bounces the bow on the strings). Roman said, 'That's the kind of thing cellists do when they're tired of practicing, and teachers always tell you not to do it.'

Even though I think this concerto will reward repeated listening, it was quite accessible the first time through, as an interplay between melody (mostly produced by the solo cello) and rhythm (mostly produced by the orchestra). The percussion section, led by Michael A. Werner, performed ably on a wide variety of instruments, including a giant kalimba (thumb piano). There was a gorgeous cello duet for Roman and Efe Baltacigil (current principal cello of SSO), and another for two violas (Susan Gulkis Assadi and Arie Shächter).

This eclectic concerto offered orchestral color reminiscent of Gershwin, harmony from Asia, and complex rhythms from Africa and the Caribbean. In the final movement, Roman joined the jazzy beat of the orchestra by plucking with a guitar pick.

Rhythmically difficult music often falls apart in performance, but with an orchestra like SSO, a soloist like Roman, and a conductor like Gra~inyte-Tyla, it all worked perfectly. At the conclusion of the concerto, the audience roared its approval, and after a long standing ovation, Roman returned for a solo encore: the palate-cleansing 'Prelude' to Bach's Cello Suite No. 1, which he played beautifully.

The Bates concerto was sandwiched between two Russian works: Prokofiev's suite from his score for the film Lieutenant Kijé, and a suite compiled by Gra~inyte-Tyla from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty ballet. The sparkly, humorous Prokofiev suite gave all parts of the orchestra a chance to show their stuff, but the first couple of movements were a bit bumpy - as though conductor and orchestra were still learning to communicate - and the tempo dragged in places. Highlights included solos by Zartouhi Dombourian-Eby on piccolo, David Gordon on trumpet, and Fred Winkler on tenor saxophone.

I was prepared to be bored by the familiar Tchaikovsky ballet score, but under Gra~inyte-Tyla's direction, the piece sounded astonishingly fresh and exciting. The soft passages were very soft indeed, the crescendos were dramatically effective, and the loud passages showed off the full power of the orchestra. (When did the string and brass sections become so darn good?) Harpist Valerie Muzzolini Gordon gave a superlative performance, and when the conductor singled her out for a bow at the end, my companion remarked, 'She seems completely surprised. When does the harpist ever get that kind of attention?'

The combination of three superb young artists - conductor, composer, and soloist - drew a noticeably younger crowd than usual. As we left the concert hall, attempting to imitate Gra~inyte-Tyla's unusually expressive hand gestures, it seemed to me that we had more spring in our step than usual, too.

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BEST OF MUSIC 2014: ALBUMS AND SINGLES
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BEST OF MUSIC 2014: HOTTEST ARTISTS OF THE YEAR
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Best of Music 2014: Featured Artist Interview - An SGN exclusive interview with Jason Mraz
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BEST OF MUSIC 2014: LIVE PERFORMANCES
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WORST MUSIC OF 2014
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Christmastown: A Holiday Noir is lots of fun!
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You make me feel so young, SSO
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The Heavy and The Light are excellent
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The GREATness continues with The Great Society
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2014 HOLIDAY CALENDAR
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