A Commissioned tune for the Bassoon

When words cannot speak, music exceeds expectations and so willingly does.

Last evening’s concert featuring Principal Bassoonist of the PSO, Nancy Goeres, held quite an array of bewitching, fascinating works in the program.

The PSO beautifully opened with Richard Wagner’s Prelude to Lohengrin Act I. With shimmering, nearly static, strings at first, swelling to a grand climax Wagner leads us through a dreamlike world; and though only about eight minutes in its entirety, for that time I was transfixed on the incredible beauty that filled the hall that came from nowhere, unexpected, and I must say hardly cognizable at first. In the Program notes it states a summarized version of Wagner’s description of the Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin by his biographer Ernest Newman: “Out of the clear blue ether of the sky there seems to condense a wonderful, yet at first hardly perceptible vision; and out of this there emerges, ever more and more clearly, an angel host bearing in its midst the sacred Grail…. The beholder sinks on his knees in adoring self annihilation. The Grail pours out its light on him like a benediction, and consecrates him to its service; then the flames gradually die away, and the angel host soars up again to the ethereal heights in tender joy, having made pure once more the hearts of men by the sacred blessings of the Grail.” Those words are a quite lucid inside to Wagner’s soul and the inspiration behind this exquisite composition that evokes so many emotions.

Moving onto the Bassoon soloist, Nancy Goeres… Firstly, I will say that it was exciting to be a part of this World Premiere commissioned by the PSO. When a modern piece is first brought to my ears, it is inevitably I daresay, difficult to welcome this new sound and fully embody this foreign work. From my experience, many modern compositions lend themselves to the more atonal avenue than tonal. But, was not the case with this concerto. Again, the program notes on the inception of this piece were quite enlightening and deepened my appreciation for this intricate work I did not know a bassoon capable of. In fact, until last night I was only familiar with the bassoon in an orchestra setting. It was interesting to watch Ms. Goeres as she conveyed her skill in the phrasing (breathing) and in general, complete control of the very large bassoon. I can only imagine the amount that ones physical body plays in making the bassoon work as intended. Each movement told their own stories with a wonderful climax. Again in the program notes, composer Alan Fletcher tells us the story that each movement tells. I often find the performer (in a strange way), the PSO and hall in general distracting. When I closed my eyes I was able to appreciate the blending lines of music. All that said, I was still not fully connected with the piece. Whether the PSO was or not, they certainly maintained connection that was evident to me as the onlooker and I’m sure the soloist.

Thirdly, the PSO certainly happily surprised me with Béla Bartók’s startling “Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin.” The opening by the 2nd violins was done in a brilliant yet mysterious way which made the piece extremely entertaining. This ingenious work was incredibly thrilling and grabbed your attention from it’s quite sudden start. You were never bored, but eagerly awaiting the challenges and adventures that were at your next move. A few words that can only touch this piece in my opinion are: sparkling, scintillating, glowing, stimulating, resplendent…

In concluding this program we were graced with Maurice Ravel’s La Valse. Shimmering clarity and dancelike quality were the base to this work. Full of fantasies. The whole hall could not escape the three-quarter time feel. Ravel explained this waltz as an “inescapable whirlpool.” So true. It had an effect on you that you could not resist being pulled into.

What an intriguing night of music that the musicians and soloist of the PSO so fabulously displayed and performed.

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