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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 30, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 40
Gabriel Prokofiev ruled with 'When the City Rules'
Arts & Entertainment
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Gabriel Prokofiev ruled with 'When the City Rules'

by Alice Bloch - SGN A&E Writer

SEATTLE SYMPHONY
WITH SPECIAL GUEST
GABRIEL PROKOFIEV
BENAROYA HALL
September 22


The first subscription concert of the 2016-17 Seattle Symphony Orchestra (SSO) season was a whopping success, giving one more proof of the organization's excellence of performance and adventurousness of programming under the leadership of music director Ludovic Morlot.

With a program bracketed by two Beethoven symphonies, both ably performed, it was a rare treat to witness two even more exciting performances: Sergei Prokofiev's symphonic suite 'The Love for Three Oranges,' and the world premiere of a four-movement piece by his grandson, Gabriel Prokofiev. When Beethoven is upstaged by a twentieth-century and a twenty-first-century Prokofiev, that's amore!

While I was growing up, one of my father's favorite records was 'The Love for Three Oranges' symphonic suite, so I didn't expect to hear anything new in this familiar piece. I was in for a pleasant surprise. The spirited performance at Benaroya practically jolted me out of my seat with its freshness and vitality. The enormous orchestra provided brilliant color and perfect coordination of strings, brass, and percussion.

Gabriel Prokofiev is known for mixing genres: classical, hip-hop, techno, you name it. In Seattle, he is known primarily as the orchestral arranger of 'Dial 1-900 Mix-A-Lot,' which was commissioned by SSO and performed by Sir Mix-A-Lot and SSO in the 2014 Sonic Evolution concert. The video of that performance on YouTube has garnered thousands of views, largely because the Benaroya stage was invaded by dozens of twerking audience members.

This time no one invaded the stage except the composer himself, who introduced his new SSO-commissioned work 'When the City Rules.' Because his grandfather was - you know - Russian, I assumed Gabriel Prokofiev would have a Russian accent, but he's a Brit who lives in London. His utterly charming introduction emphasized the importance of cities in today's world, where more and more people are living in urban environments.

His composition was chock-full of urban sounds: the slow crescendo of a city waking up, and then the midday noise of horns, machines, clattery rhythms. I heard echoes of George Gershwin's 'An American in Paris,' Leonard Bernstein's 'West Side Story,' Aaron Copland's 'Quiet City,' Manuel de Falla's 'Nights in the Gardens of Spain,' and Igor Stravinsky's 'The Rite of Spring.' I heard other sounds that I'd never heard before. At times I was uncertain which instrument I was hearing: a bassoon in its upper register or a saxophone in its lower register? an alto flute or a clarinet? The uncertainty was thrilling.

Six percussionists (in addition to timpanist Michael Crusoe) played an impressive array of instruments, most of which I'd never seen before. Kudos, too, to soloists Jeffrey Barker on flute, Fred Winkler on saxophone, Efe Baltacigil on cello, David Gordon on trumpet, and Jeffrey Fair on horn. Concertmaster Cordula Merks deserves credit alongside Maestro Morlot for pulling together a smashing performance within a few days of sight-reading the score of this wonderful, brand-new piece. I hope it will find its way to Benaroya many times in the future.

Like both Prokofievs, Beethoven was a master of wit and uncertainty. The concert began with Beethoven's Symphony No. 1, which keeps the listener guessing about the key, and ended with his Symphony No. 8, which keeps the listener guessing about the downbeat and about whether a movement is ending or a new section of the movement is beginning. The performance of No. 1 was slightly out-of-kilter, as though the orchestra was still warming up, but SSO gave a splendid, original performance of No. 8.

Seattle music-lovers are lucky to have an orchestra of the caliber of SSO, with a music director as bold and inventive as Morlot. For information about future concerts and to order tickets, go to seattlesymphony.org.

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