By Maia Nolan
If one were asked to sum up the Feb. 17 (2007) Anchorage Symphony Orchestra concert in one word, the word would be “dynamic.” In a program that featured a riveting guest soloist, the world premiere of a commissioned piece and a tribute to friends recently departed, the real highlight was the exquisite work of the symphony musicians, who treated the audience to a polished, nuanced performance.
Conductor Randall Craig Fleischer opened the program by announcing that the orchestra would honor former concertmaster Ruth Jefford, who died Jan. 9, and former Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra conductor Gordon Wright, who died last week, in the traditional way: Bach’s “Air” from the Third Orchestral Suite, followed by a moment of silence.
Once the departed had been remembered, the symphony launched headfirst into Beethoven’s “Coriolan” Overture, inspired by a German adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus.” The piece featured striking work by the strings, including entire passages in which the violin section played with such clarity and uniformity that, had all 19 bows not been moving, the sound might have been mistaken for a soloist.
The real soloist, however, was 20-year-old Japanese violinist Mayuko Kamio, who presented a spirited and physical performance of Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63. An athletic performer, Kamio was an enormous presence onstage, throwing herself into the piece, attacking each pizzicato as though she were ripping the sound from her instrument. During the few moments she wasn’t playing, Kamio rested with the stance of a tennis ace waiting for her next serve. Her energy was riveting, and the orchestra seemed to feed on it as much as the audience did.
The second half of the program featured the debut of “Dark Waves” by Fairbanks composer John Luther Adams, commissioned by the symphony’s Musica Nova wing. In remarks before the performance (which he dedicated to Wright), Adams described “Dark Waves” as a “single rich, complex, ever-changing sound,” and that’s exactly what it was.
At no point does “Dark Waves” ever begin to approach anything that sounds like traditional classical music; rather, it is a kind of ordered cacophony, a low, controlled rumble from which snatches of sound occasionally emerge like ships drifting in and out of thick fog. Flutes and oboes echo bird song, and the low brass provides a steady, yet shifting, droning backdrop for the interplay of sound.
The piece doesn’t come to a climax, instead evolving in a unique and fascinating way until it simply stops.
“Dark Waves” coupled nicely with Debussy’s “La Mer,” the final piece on the program, which has a similar undulating feel. The first movement, “From Dawn to Noon on the Sea,” seemed to be the weakest performance of the evening, although it was played well — which says quite a bit about the quality of the concert.
Whether Wright’s and Jefford’s spirits were present in Atwood Concert Hall or the symphony’s musicians were just having a really good night, it’s tough to say. Either way, the audience reaped all the benefit.
Maia Nolan lives and writes in Anchorage.