Sunday, October 16, 2016

It was a very good year

Porter and the WSO play Tchaikovsky ‘78

By Lily Olason

This afternoon, the forty-first season of the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra kicked off to the rapturous tune of Tchaikovsky. In fact, it was “All Tchaikovsky.” Maestro Yaniv Attar selected, for the first and second halves of the show, two of the composer’s greatest works: Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 featuring nineteen-year-old soloist Simone Porter, and Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op 36.

Both written in 1878 (Attar: “a good year for him”), the works exhibit the breadth of Tchaikovsky’s prolific range—the swelling, orbital highs of Violin Concerto contrast in sharp relief with the pulsing, punctuating passages of Symphony No. 4.

Attar described Violin Concerto as “inhumane” to the soloist and I have to agree. The sheer volume of notes compounds on itself, their paths intersecting above and below and across, pin-balling around the neck, floating, then suddenly opaque. In his program notes, Dr. Ryan Dudenbostel recounts Leopold Auer (the violinist for whom the solo was written) denouncing the piece as “unplayable,” along with a stream of bad receptions and ill-executed performances that sent the piece into relative obscurity. Fortunately for us, its notoriety has since picked up.

In her precision, Ms. Porter tests the knowledge of adjectives—the closest ones that come to mind are “phenomenal,” “electrifying,” “jaw-dropping,” and “superb.” Throughout, stratospheric passages melted into softness, Porter’s spherical tone sending notes dissipating gently into the ether before arriving on the next measure. And after rests, entrances were feathers dropping into water, concentric rings drifting out across the theater; one moment it was explosive, rapid, the next weightless, calm. With her tireless, gorgeous accuracy, Porter faithfully, creatively, translated the ink for us.

Three movements later, naturally, came the standing O.  

After intermission, Attar gave a brief introduction to Symphony No. 4. Heavily influenced by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky incorporated flavor of the famous “fates” motif from his Fifth Symphony into his own work. A resounding, rhythmic return threads throughout the piece as it wends through movements soft and big.

The orchestra did marvelous work interpreting the chaotic and the tranquil, the forceful and the light in this master of the western repertoire. The enormous, four-movement piece showcased the gifts this orchestra has-- immense, thundering percussion, cutting, fearless brass, the collaboration of melody and counterpoint and the wonderful interpretation of microscopic, Tchaikovsky-ian embellishments. Folding impeccable solos (flute and oboe especially) and the technically demanding into the detailed tapestry of this work, the WSO reminded us once again why they are as fantastically good as they are and how lucky we are to have them.

 The WSO’s next gig is November 20th, featuring oboist Alex Klein and Beethoven’s Pastorale.  Visit the WSO’s website to learn more and to purchase tickets. Don’t miss out—if today was any indication, this season’s going to rock.

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