Emanuel Ax and Ludovic Morlot play Ives and Beethoven in Seattle

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Emanuel Ax and Ludovic Morlot play Ives and Beethoven in Seattle. Photo: Brandon Patoc
Emanuel Ax and Ludovic Morlot play Ives and Beethoven in Seattle. Photo: Brandon Patoc

The SSO achieved a remarkable success in their last Thursday’s concert at the Benaroya Hall, which featured Ludovic Morlot conducting Charles Ives’ New England Holidays symphony and Emmanuel Ax on Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor”.

Seattle aficionados are accustomed to watching their orchestra excelling in the XX century repertoire. That’s why patrons were not surprised by the quality of the rendition of Ives’ New England Holidays symphony. Once again, SSO ductility was a powerful instrument in Ludovic Morlot’s hands. In this occasion, the music was supported by the projection of drawings and pictures created by local artist Becky Joy Aitken and also by Claudia Castro Luna’s compelling poetry. Such combination resulted in a fascinating piece of art which, nevertheless, did not fully captivated the audience at the Benaroya.

The first number of the symphony, Washington’s Birthday, evoked New England’s arid and freezing winter, warmed up by the dance-like middle section. In Castro Luna’s words ‘Color hibernates, leaving behind its essence to purr in everything oblique light touches’. A passionate and profound spirit was present in several passages, underlining the honesty of the score, as in a credo. In Decoration Day, the second movement of Ives’ symphony, both the calm passages and the explosive cabaletta were exposed finely by Morlot’s dependable baton.

The third movement is dedicated to the Fourth of July. Ives’ music seemed to pursue a rare form of self-explanation, mixing melodies and dissonances to create a delusional atmosphere. The colors of the Fall came with the fourth movement, Thanksgiving and Forefathers’ Day, accompanied by the syncopated rhythms of ragtime. Celebration means death in Ives’ Holiday Symphony, but there is still place for hope. As said by Seattle’s Civic Poet Castro Luna — we may yet reap a future when injustice and war are the moraine of our present, bitter epoch.

Emanuel Ax and Ludovic Morlot play Ives and Beethoven in Seattle. Photo: Brandon Patoc
Emanuel Ax and Ludovic Morlot play Ives and Beethoven in Seattle. Photo: Brandon Patoc

Thus, the first part of the concert supposed a good opportunity to face our own image in the mirror of a revolutionary Charles Ives. Art is often an image of life that seeks eternity by explaining our today. The reaction of the audience was tepid, somehow overwhelmed. However, the conversations in the lobby echoed many of the ideas enclosed in Charles Ives’ music.

After the break, the long-awaited pianist Emanuel Ax performed an intriguing version of Piano Concerto “Emperor”. It is one of Beethoven best-known masterpieces and served to reconcile Maestro Morlot with the composer. Ludovic Morlot gave a lesson of serenity and eloquence and conducted with strength and inspiration. We really enjoyed the ethereal piano scales in the first movement and the way Mr. Ax played with volume and dynamics in order to fade within the orchestra and to reappear later sharper and burgeoning.

In the second movement, the bond between Ax and Morlot seemed forged in silver while the SSO achieved one of their best renditions this season. Just the delicate strokes of the piano during the obbligato were worth the entire evening. The bright and majestic rondo brought a surprise at the end of the piece – Maestro Morlot slowed down the tempo during the cadenza and twined piano and timpani (Michael Crusoe) in a magic finale. The ovation of the audience was responded with an encore by Emanuel Ax, an intimist version of Chopin’s Nocturne No. 1.

Last Thursday’s SSO concert was one of those evenings that create life-long music lovers.

Carlos J Lopez