Monday, March 3, 2008

Goodbye, Winter Pass

This past Saturday I took advantage of my 2007-2008 St. Louis Symphony Orchestra "Winter Pass" for the last time. Sigh.

The concert was conducted by the Peruvian-born music director of the Fort Worth Symphony, Miguel Harth-Bedoya. It opened with a brief overture titled Fanfare with Fireworks by modernist British composer Oliver Knussen (who, quite remarkably, conducted his own first symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra when he was fifteen years old). Next came a rare performance of Chopin's Second Piano Concerto, featuring Argentinian pianist Ingrid Fliter - who, between her good looks and the exquisitely sensitive way she played the slow, middle movement, made me fall in love with her right there.

After the intermission, the remainder of the program was turned over to 20th-century Spanish composers: Joaquín Turina's set of three Danzas Fantasticas, and Manuel de Falla's ballet suite El Sombrero de Tres Picos (The Three-Cornered Hat). Bedoya conducted with great energy and precision, making this music - which hovers between late Romanticism and early modernism - jump and sizzle with exotic flair and dramatic irony.

Both halves of the concert deserved a standing ovation, but since I confessed of the previous week's program that I preferred the Stravinsky number, I'll mention that I thought the Falla piece kicked the others around the block and, in the case of Knussen and Turina, did so twice. The Chopin was good... but it was Chopin at age 19, still ascending toward the height of his powers. Far be it from me to champion something that sounds harsh and weird for its own sake (like the Knussen), but I have reached the point in the evolution of my musical taste where I will generally prefer the crispness and pungency of 20th century music to the spongy softness and cloying sweetness of late Romanticism. But the bottom line is that the Falla piece was brilliant and exciting evidence of a genius at the peak of his activity.

IMAGES (top to bottom): Harth-Bedoya; Fliter; Falla.

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