All art has as its ultimate goal, union between material and the spiritual, the human and the divine. I believe that to be the reason for the very existence of art. In this context, I believe that the late and current composers featured on this program, the PSO, and featured soloist, violinist, Joshua Bell were chosen as “instruments” to infect our lives (the world) with love and harmony—to listeners of all ages.
This week’s PSO performances featured works and performances by Mason Bates, 2012-2013 Composer of the Year, violinist, Joshua Bell, and the PSO playing Brahms’ Symphony No. 3.
Mason Bates’ piece Desert Transport opened the show. I always enjoy when the Composer of the Year’s piece is being played and they are able to be there to speak about the piece. It is always helpful and insightful to aid you in the best possible listening experience. Desert Transport is about a helicopter trip Bates took over the Arizona desert and it contemplates this incredible desert landscape from the perspective of this whizzing helicopter. I have not had the privilege (until this weekend) to see/hear any of Bates’ works live, but only from the YouTube clips, and from what I’ve heard there was a lot of use of electronics, so I expected Desert Transport to have electronics incorporated. However, Desert Transport was “unplugged” and I think is now one of my favorite contemporary, modern works yet. It sounded like movie music—I felt like I was listening to a song from John Williams’ E.T or Jurassic Park score. It was clearly not atonal, which was refreshing, as so many modern works lend themselves to. It was riveting, soulful, and passionate. Guest conductor, Juanjo Mena was fantastic in how he aided the PSO in pulling together every nuance and color that Bates had composed.
Joshua Bell was back this weekend with the PSO. He last performed with the PSO in June 2012, and will be performing with the PSO again in February 2014 playing Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 21. This weekend, Bell played a refreshing piece—Bernstein’s Serenade. It is not played as often as the Mendelssohn or Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. I think it is a one of Bernstein’s greatest works–one of the great 20th century violin works. It’s got everything in it. It’s “very Bernstein”. It hints towards West Side Story, virtuosic violin playing, beautiful melodies, a little bit of jazz, plus a lot of tender beautiful things. It’s unusual—in its five movements (based off Plato’s Symposium), not the traditional three. Plato describes it as “all different sides of love”. I’m a big fan of Bernstein—everything about him as conductor, as a composer. He was one of the great geniuses. Bell, is a genius here as well, tossing off the technically demanding passages and simply “dancing” on the wood of the violin. Yes, I am in sheer awe over the virtuosic flashy passages, but what I think really deserves awe is the generally slow in tempo and more introspective passages. Flashy is quite “manageable” to an extent, but it takes a true artist as Bell to capture the heart-wrenching, reflective music that requires you to pour your heart and soul (essentially your whole being) into a piece and effectively translate that to an audience, which is what Bell did.
The PSO and conductor, Juanjo Mena closed the evening with Brahms’ stunning Symphony No. 3. At this point in the program I realized that Mena conducted with no score in front of him! Bravo, Maestro Mena for the amazing art of conducting in general, but especially for giving to and shaping the orchestra with your incredible musicianship. Mena, once again pulled every nuance and color out of Brahms symphony and in turn generously gave to the audience. The music washed over and enveloped the audience to the fullest extent, that the Brahms was truly an intimate, “with one” experience for all involved.