freaks, fiddles & fanfare

The program for the second concert in this season was delightfully refreshing and eclectic. It had humor and peril and bombast and earthiness. Very appropriate for a Hallows Eve!

The evening began with a lovely tribute to Sir Neville Marriner, the founding conductor of LACO, who recently passed away at the age of 92. In a very sweet moment, the conductor-less Orchestra played a Larghetto from Elgar’s “Serenade for Strings.”

Guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard, current Chief Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, is a tall and lithe Danish man who conducts with zest and precision. His conducting never dragged, yet never seemed hurried. The orchestra was bursting with life and clarity. He built momentum with ease. There was a particular lightness and relish in the back and forth between the Orchestra and their kinetically fearless leader pro tempore.

The first piece, “A Freak in Burbank” by Swedish composer Albert Schnelzer, was inspired by Haydn and Tim Burton. It’s mischievous, unpredictable and playful. The piece captures the sweet spot of chaotic dark humor characteristic of Tim Burton’s work. Dausgaard’s long, black-suited limbs enthusiastically leading the Orchestra really added to the feeling of the piece, calling to mind the figure of Burton’s beloved character Jack Skellington from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” The influence of Haydn’s inventiveness and rhythmic propulsion could also be felt in the piece.  It was a highly enjoyable romp!

Next up was Finnish composer Sibelius’ “Six Humoresques.” These are delightful to listen to, especially when performed by the outstanding Norwegian soloist, Henning Kraggerud, who is also an experienced composer.  He has great technical virtuosity that appears to be very grounded and organic. It meshed beautifully with the untroubled charm of the Humoresques. My favorite was the 5th, a showy and playful piece in which the soloist displayed the full range of his technique. The 6th brings this agreeable suite to a soothingly introspective conclusion.

Finally, breaking with the night’s “Scandinavians take over LACO” theme, we have the stuff of symphonic legend, BEETHOVEN’S THIRD! What can I say about this? It’s magnificent. It’s gigantic. Its expressive range runs the gambit from comic to tragic to heroic. It’s jaw dropping in its ambition and scope. What’s really interesting about this piece is that it was originally entitled “Bonaparte.” Beethoven composed it as a memorial to a man (Napoleon) he hoped would inspire all of Europe to an egalitarian revolution. In May 1804, Napoleon betrayed Beethoven’s idealization and declared himself Emperor of France (he was crowned before the Pope in December of that same year). With that, Napoleon became to Beethoven a “tyrant” who would “think himself superior to all men.” In his rage, he renamed the symphony “Eroica”. Thus, what began as an homage to a great libertarian with humanist ideals evolved into the longest and largest-scale embodiment of musical life force Beethoven ever created, in my opinion.  The symphony itself becomes the hero! An excellent outcome.

One last thing: congratulations are in order for Claire Brazeau, the newly-appointed principal oboist (she has a great Instagram feed, by the way: @oboejones). The orchestra will also be welcoming Joachim Becerra Thomsen as principal flute in January of 2017.