Was Beethoven a revolutionary? What could be considered as a revolution in arts? The last concert of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra revolved around the idea of revolution, understood as a definite change in the History of music. In a balanced program, the Seattle Symphony presented at the Benaroya Hall works of Ives and Bartok, in contrast with Beethoven’s Third Symphony “Eroica”.
The first piece of the concert, Three Places in New England, is a programmatic work by the American composer Charles Ives. Premiered in New York in 1931, it describes three different locations and moments. The first one, «in Boston Common», begins with a delicate line in the strings and a balanced tempo that creates a pleasant feeling of tranquility.
The second movement, «in Connecticut», features some insinuating phrases for wood winds, nicely served by Laura DeLuca (clarinet) and Mary Lynch. This movement was full of expression, with marked contrasts and dynamics, such a hard challenge for the orchestra.
The Third movement, «at Stockbridge», proposes a contemplative promenade. Inspired by American tunes, Ives achieved a rich palette of colors and different textures arising from the dialogue between the strings and the winds. All is about an inspiring and sensorial trip. The Seattle Symphony Orchestra, led by Maestro Ludovic Morlot, played a phenomenal rendition of this tricky score.
Bela Bartok’s Piano Concerto No.3 was the first of a series of collaborations between the orchestra and the French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (they will play the three Bartok’s Piano Concertos over three years). It was actually a very good beginning. We saw a fascinating first movement which puts together the authenticity of Bartok’s folk inspiration and the honesty of a music that breaths nature. The second movement was full of romantic phrases and beautiful dissonances. The initial short comments of the piano became easier and more playful after a while. Then, piano and orchestra joined gorgeously in the same chant. Mr. Morlot and Mr. Bavouzet achieved a surprising connection. Some desperate contrasts in the piano found its balm in the quietness of the cellos at the end of the second movement. It was a magic movement. The stormy third movement was full of light and life and we listened to a vibrant and dense sound. The audience stood up to salute of our French pianist, who showed all his talent and perfect domain of the repertoire.
As a suitable encore, Mr. Bavouzet played three annotation written by Pierre Boulez when he was 19, the same year of Bartok’s piano concerto. Those were small and fascinating pieces, somehow close to surrealism. The pianist surprised here with a tasteful use of the pedals.
After the break, with Beethoven’s Third Symphony ‘Eroica’, the Seattle symphony demonstrated why it is considered one of the best orchestras in North America. After a flawless first movement, the second one was exceptionally elegant and monumental, as a temple. It is fair to highlight here the work of Elisa Barston and Susan Gulkis Assadi, violin and viola leaders, responsible for some of the best moments of the interpretation. The last movement is a good example of the artistic magnitude of the symphony. A profound musical statement built from the pizzicato style in the strings and ends up in a magnificent Beethovenian ensemble. All the musicians in the orchestra accomplished a very high level but the fantastic interventions of the attentive first flute (Jeffrey Barker) stood out in a singular manner.
After such a nice evening, we came up with the idea that there is not revolution in music. Artistic creation is about questioning the basements of art itself. It is about exploring new ways of expression beyond all the already-known boundaries. There are not any stablished truths: everything can and should be reviewed and brought into question. Therefore, Beethoven cannot be considered in that sense a revolutionary, but a genius who enhanced the limits of artistic expression and became a paramount reference for the majority of the following composers.
Carlos J. Lopez