From the line stretching out the box office door, I knew the ‘New World’ symphony was going to be heavily attended. Never having heard anything by Antonin Dvorák before, I confess I wasn’t quite sure why, but my wondering was soon to be over.
The PSO has a knack for putting music together; their commitment to a certain theme in one program is evident. The pieces they choose are often quite different, but the themes of each always correspond with the others. In the last program, which was made up of MacMillan, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky, the musical quality of the pieces were completely different, yet they all fit together in their fateful, and at times playful, quality. This week was no exception, and though the faux Bach piece, the Bruch piece, and the Dvorák symphony were all quite different, they all contributed to make it a well-chosen program.
The theme of the night was ‘The New World’, a fitting theme for Thanksgiving weekend. The first piece, supposedly by Bach and reconstructed by Braxton Blake, was alternately interesting and amusing to me. I quite enjoyed the music, and it did sound something like a Bach piece, but it made me laugh to think of Bach coming back and shaking his head at what was supposed to be his lost concerto and was in reality nothing like it. But perhaps Blake was successful in his ‘musical forensics’, and the lost piece really was similar to the reconstructed piece. In any case, the PSO did a lovely job of bringing the whimsical music to life.
Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 was also quite whimsical, I thought, and as a fan of the horn section, I was happy to see them enter the stage and take their seats. The show was stolen, however, by Andrés Cárdenes, whose violin playing swept me to my feet at the end of the concerto. I may not know how to play the violin, but I know enough about it to know that what he did was amazing. Forgive my non-musical language when I say that the notes he played—quickly and very high—were incredible. I am sure the musicians in the hall were even more impressed with him, but I was stunned. The fact that he did not use music, either, impressed me greatly; I suppose having it memorized was to him similar to a great actor memorizing a long script, but I was still in awe.
One of my favorite people to watch at the symphony (and I suspect that I’m not the only one) is the conductor, and Manfred Honeck did not let me down. His passion and evident joy made the experience more enjoyable for me, as I found myself drawn in because of his attachment to the music. As one part of the Bruch piece came to a close, the orchestra’s instruments died out slowly, leaving him clutching his baton in an attitude of despairing grief. The audience and the musicians held their breath, straining to see his evident emotion, until he finally lowered the baton and everyone breathed again.
Dvorák’s symphony ‘From the New World’ touched me immensely. I thoroughly enjoyed the themes he wove through it reflecting beautiful spirituals and melodies that, as he rightly stated, ‘are the product of the soil.’ It was as if he had taken tunes, already beautiful in their simplicity and richness, and given them wings. The melodies, wrapped up in the gorgeous orchestral music, were transformed into something much higher and more important, yet Dvorák brought us back, time and again, to the original tunes, reminding us that they were still simple and true. The second movement touched me especially, convinced as I am that I have heard the melody it was based around before, somewhere (or, not to impeach Dvorák’s honor, a variant on it). It brought to mind everything that was meaningful and poignant in my life, reminding me that though the New World, or—for me and many others—simply the future, is unknown and uncertain, still there is something I can cling to.
With the wonderful gift of 29 million dollars under its belt, the PSO is certain to continue for a long, glorious time. With symphonies like this one still to come, I know I’m excited.