By Lily Olason
Beginning in this fortieth season of the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra, Maestro Yaniv Attar has introduced a special series. Commemorating symphonic works written—and composers writing—in the midst of oppression, “Harmony from Discord” will comprise one concert each season. This afternoon, it was the beautiful melodies of László Weiner and the megalithic work of Dmitri Shostakovich, featuring three indelibly gifted soloists.
To begin, soloists Susan Gulkis Assadi (viola) and Jessica Choe (piano) took the stage. They immediately fell into Hindemith’s Trauermusik, and the precedent was gorgeously set. The honorary piece was written the day after King George V’s death, and as Maestro Attar noted, was a fitting way to begin the concert.
After massive applause, Maestro Attar explained the concept behind the new WSO series, and prepped us for the two pieces to come. Then, he introduced Holocaust survivor and Whatcom County resident, Noemi Ban.
Sharing only a excerpt of her story, the 93 year-old delivered a message of hope and resilience. She “loves life,” and her indefatigable spirit is of the same cloth as the concert and series. There is humanity, and there is love, and there is beauty, and they are impervious to the poison of oppression.
To complete the first half and compliment Ban’s message, Attar counted off Weiner’s Concerto for Flute, Viola, Piano and String Orchestra. Composed just three years before his death and two before his arrest to the Lukov concentration camp, Weiner didn’t live to hear his piece performed. Rarely selected by symphonies, this is only the second time it’s been played in the US.
Built around a super-heroic and dynamic piano anchor, played flawlessly by Choe, Zart Dombourian-Eby’s flute and Assadi’s viola melodized and harmonized in tandem—their tone is as pure as the richness and sweetness is indescribable. The three lent masterful, and often gymnastic, ability to the concerto, and as each part separated, the electricity they drew from the score kept them unified. From the wells of minor chords swelled sweetness and resolution; triumphant iterations overcame dissonance and resulted in some of the prettiest passages of the twentieth century. It takes a fierce talent to play a work like this, and the three delivered an impeccable performance.
After the break, Attar introduced Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47. Written after his highly political opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsenk District, the piece is in ostensible alignment with Stalin’s despotic regime. But as the Masetro noted, there are several “secret codes” of resistance that thread throughout the piece and give it its powerful life and solemnity. Huge brass and percussion passages alternated with a sweetness from oboe, flute, and bassoon. A haunting ebb and flow moved throughout the strings, tinged with something besides “celebration” of the state. A massive, characteristically “symphonic” fourth movement, etched with the coding of resistance, flawlessly punctuated the piece. The Symphony interpreted this score with care and energy, and the sound was absolutely, brilliantly fantastic.
2016’s “Harmony from Discourse” featured outstanding selection of work. At times achingly beautiful and others passionately unyielding, the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra and its wonderful soloists have channeled an upwelling of creativity from times unthinkable. Art shines a light wherever there is humanity.
The Symphony’s next concert is “Viva el Tango!” featuring Elisa Barston on violin. Find more info and tickets here.