The Nashville Symphony, like many successful orchestras across the United States, has tried in recent years to appeal to a broader audience. One common strategy is to simply program concerts more creatively, often with the incorporation of more modern works and less classical and romantic era masterpieces. Therein lies a significant challenge – obtaining an artistic balance that will please classical music enthusiasts and those members of the audience for whom a trip to the symphony is a rare occasion.
In the program titled Guerrero Conducts Bernstein, Giancarlo Guerrero set out to accomplish this perfect equilibrium. In fact, he stated this as his intent during his opening remarks. Guerrero’s eloquence and personality, along with his willingness to engage with the audience, have gained him and the symphony great popularity. Prior to the first work on the program, Giovanni Gabrieli’s Sonata Pain’ e Forte for Double Brass Quintet, Guerrero provided historical context for the work, which was written in 1597. I found this personally very tactful, especially with the two later works being composed over 350 years later.
The Sonata Pian’ e Forte is written for two brass quintets consisting of three trumpets, horn and trombone, and two horns, trombone, bass trombone and tuba. The two quintets were positioned on either side of the Schermerhorn stage. In composing this work, Gabrieli strove to exhibit the wide dynamic range that can be accomplished on the instruments. While the louder sections rang clearly and displayed the strengths of the symphony hall, the quieter sections were a bit weaker in intonation and sound quality. As it was written in the 16th century, this work is essentially all counterpoint, which means that the harmonic relationships of the different instruments playing at the same time are incredibly dependent on one another; thus, when one note is out of tune, the piece falls off the rails. Overall, however, the choice to open with an ancient work was a nice one, as it greatly offset the two pieces that followed.
Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade (after Plato’s “Symposium”) for Solo Violin, Harp, Percussion and Strings, was performed with violinist Anne Akiko Meyers. The five-movement work is one of great diversity, truly taking the narrative to heart in its construction. The first movement, “Phaedras: Pausanias,” allowed Meyers to utilize her strength in precision of articulation. Her sharp, biting sound resonated clearly throughout the hall. However, minor intonation problems took away from the excellence of her bow control.
In “Aristophanes,” the second movement, Meyers and the orchestra created a seamless, smooth atmospheric texture that laid the foundation for expressive emphasis in the violin, primarily accomplished with the use of dramatic vibrato. The third movement, “Eryximachus,” is an incredibly technical movement, which Meyers handled with poise and accuracy. The tumultuous passages are followed by the fourth movement, “Agathon,” which exudes beauty and passion. A true solo movement, the orchestra provides a stable and comforting backdrop on top of which the violin soars and explores its capabilities. The work’s cadenza occurs in “Agathon,” and it was evident that Meyers spent most of her practice time on this passage, as her execution was nearly flawless. “Socrates,” the final movement, begins with an orchestra opening that resembles music found in the most common horror film. Within this framework emerges almost rustic motifs, and the movement ends in a fiery way, showing extreme facility on the soloist’s part. Unfortunately, Meyers’ sound was entirely drowned out by the orchestra at the very end of the piece, making her quick fingers simply an impressive sight.
Anne Akiko Meyers followed her performance of the Bernstein with an encore of one of his most famous works: “Somewhere” from West Side Story. Her embellishments were tasteful and artistic and the performance was a crowdpleaser. Throughout the Serenade and encore, Meyers showed constant poise and visible passion.
Following intermission, the concert concluded with Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93. There is nothing quite like hearing a Shostakovich symphony live, with its intense passion casting a spell on each member of the audience. Each movement is a masterpiece, expending every triumphant and intimate capability that the orchestra possesses. While each of Shostakovich’s symphonies is rich and powerful, Symphony No. 10 is particularly interesting in its historical context. It was premiered in 1953, the year of Joseph Stalin’s death. It was the first symphonic work composed by Shostakovich since his second denunciation in 1948, and portrays in its style both the symphonic tradition and the musings of his time.
The selection of a Gabrieli, a Bernstein, and a Shostakovich for many would seem to be unorthodox for a symphony concert. However, these three offered quality samplings of extremely different periods and styles. The Nashville Symphony surely proved its flexibility and diversity in this concert.