'Fiery Percussion' and high passion mark SSO concert

03.20.10
Colin Currie
Syracuse.com

By James O. Welsch and Linda Loomis

Gerard Schwarz, visiting conductor from the Seattle Symphony, led the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra Friday in a thrilling concert of contrasts and variety. From the joyous optimism of David Diamond’s “Rounds for String Orchestra,” to the final, fading poignancy of Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique Symphony,” he elicited impressive music from the artists.

Linda: Jennifer Higdon’s “Percussion Concerto” was the showcase piece of this concert. The interplay among Colin Currie, soloist, the percussion section, and the entire orchestra was stunning.

James: Higdon creates some wonderful moments, not least of which is the middle section of the concerto. Slating the higher and lower instruments in mirror fashion, she creates an ascending chordal line with an imposing but uncluttered lower movement. This created an expansive space for Currie to collaborate with his colleagues. Using all manner of “extended” techniques in percussion playing – bowed vibraphone, crotales (miniature cymbal-like disks) and cymbals – Currie articulated with periodic bursts of mallet, outlining an emergent melodic content.

Linda: The audience responded physically to his extended credenza; I noticed several people leaning forward in their seats as the intensity of this improvisation increased. Currie’s success in structuring something new and in the moment was affirmed by a standing ovation and sustained applause that extended for a full 2 minutes at the conclusion of the concerto.

James: Higdon designed a collaborative relationship between the soloist and orchestra. I give a tremendous tip of the hat to the percussionists for helping to create some of these wonderful effects. The musicians honored the composer’s intent by performing interesting and differing sound-worlds, always in balanced relationship. We witnessed what was certainly a unique musical amalgam.

Linda: After intermission, we heard the iconic symphony for over-the-top emotion: Tchaikovsky’s No. 6 in B Minor. It is always a heartrending experience to hear it done well, as it was tonight.

James: At the “Allegro non troppo” in the first movement, the violas played superbly, and there was a wonderful sense of balance in the woodwind section. We can’t overlook the brass either, as they were heard at all of the important brass-heavy moments throughout.

Linda: Tchaikovsky’s innovative approach to the various movements can seem enigmatic to an audience. The third movement pulls out all the stops dynamically and appears to be the finale – actually it called forth applause. But the final movement, Adagio lamentoso, pulls out all the emotional stops, moving in dark tones and funereal pace to an exquisitely expressive ending.