Friday, March 01, 2013

National Symphony presents music of Finland, with a moving reading of Sibelius #7

This week. The National Symphony Orchestra and Kennedy Center are observing “Nordic Cool 2013” with a concert of music from Finland.  This country has always been a mystery place, whose language is a bit of an enigma.  The country is one of the "highest tech" in the world (rivaled only by South Korea).  

The music of Jean Sibelius bookends the concert. The concert opens with the tone poem “Night Ride and Sunrise”, Op. 55, with a “program” that roughly reminds one of the conclusion of Schoenberg’s “Gurre-L:ieder”.  After the vassals ride in the early part of the piece, the brass shine toward the majestic end.  The final chord disappears, leaving two woodwinds to hold the last note, a bizarre technique that Dvorak had used to close the finale of the New World Symphony.  I’ve never been sure of the point.
The program concluded with the one movement Symphony #7 in C, Op. 105. From 1924.  I became familiar with Beecham’s recording of this work when I was a senior in high school, and it became a kind of personal motto in my “pre William and Mary” days (as I have discussed elsewhere)..  The sections of the symphony gradually morph into one another, so that the “movements” don’t have precise boundaries.  The work is one of the most mature examples of Sibelius’s mature style, his amalgamation of European post-romanticism with some modal techniques from impressionism (even Debussy), and his ability to build themes from little elements that start and grow gradually.  The elfish "scherzo" appears two-thirds the way through the movement (sounding more modern and even Parisian), and gradually gets snuffed out by the increasing grandeur. Not everyone warms up to this technique.  But the effect Feb. 28 of the performance by Christoph Eschenbach was monumental.
The first half of the program concluded with the Violin Concerto by Magnus Lindberg, and sounded a bit familiar.  It is somewhat neoclassical, and somewhat eclectic, in three sections with the cadenza near the end, followed by a dissipating and quiet end, .as if the listener could add his own material.  The young violinist was Pekka Kuusisto, who plays a Guadagmimi violin from 1752,  The solo tone was a bit featherweight, at least to a listener in the back of the top tier.  The violinist performed a folk dance as a solo encore. 
The second half began with the 25-minute three-part tone poem “Orion”, by Kaija Saariaho. The work is rather percussive and dissonant to the point of abstraction.   The conclusion has a perpetual motion machine where the volume dies down to nothing.  This music seemed devoid of emotion.

On the Millennium stage, a Swedish group called Skaran performed folk dances on native strings.  
In the photographs of the Nordic sculpture above (in both Kennedy Center hallways), notice the "Mobius strip" effect.  

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