Thursday, April 20, 2006

Review Of Music From The National Symphony Orchestra, Washington, D.C.: 'Dark Mood in America, Supercharged Emotions in Europe'

"When Leonard Slatkin brought the National Symphony Orchestra to Carnegie Hall on Thursday and Friday nights [April 7 and 8], the themes, intentional or otherwise, were, first, America in a bad mood and, second, late-Romantic Europe pouring out its soul in gushers of strong feeling.

Emanuel Ax played a piano concerto each evening: Melinda Wagner's "Extremity of Sky" on Thursday and Beethoven's Third Concerto on Friday. Samuel Barber's "Medea's Dance of Vengeance," elegant and fastidious even in its more violent moments, introduced Thursday's concert. Friday's opener was Elgar's ever-ardent Introduction and Allegro for String Quartet and String Orchestra.

The Elgar and, on Thursday, Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony shared similar nervous systems, both sending out great waves of pleading emotionalism and near-irresistible tunefulness. The Elgar had the benefit of brevity; the Rachmaninoff unloads its overloaded heart in four movements, an experience not unpleasant but also overpowering in an unsettling way — like having one's face licked by a very large dog.

Ms. Wagner's concerto is immensely busy. It also has a hard time enjoying itself. The composer knows how to make things tough for the redoubtable Mr. Ax and, in general, creates the atmosphere of a battlefield, filling it with struggle and violent incident. "Extremity of Sky" is an impressive master of its materials. (I liked the slowly undulating vibraphone tones.) Yet the relentless trafficking in despair made the occasional lull seem only a resting-up period for the next bout of anxiety. Serenity is not this composer's strongest suit.

If Ms. Wagner's concerto is depressed, John Corigliano's First Symphony, played on Friday, is angry. It remembers friends dead of AIDS, with fragments of their favorite music inserted as memorials. Otherwise, Mr. Corigliano does not take these deaths philosophically. The orchestra shrieks and bangs with sonic expletives. Textures are rubbed raw to the bone. The interludes of quietness are dumb grief; no solace is offered.

There were defections from the audience, but here the National Symphony was at its best. The Elgar and the Rachmaninoff had a puzzling sense of dislocation, the orchestra's strings sending out a warm glow of blurred rhythms and hazy togetherness. Was it an interpretive decision by Mr. Slatkin to surrender tight ensemble to this sort of blowzy emotiveness?" ...

Bernard Holland "Dark Mood in America, Supercharged Emotions in Europe" New York Times April 10, 2006 via

An earlier barricading of the Nation's Capital.

Barricades on Duke Street bing erected by African-Americans, under Union direction, to protect the Orange and Alexandria Railroad from Confederate Cavalry - Alexandria, Virginia, 1861.

Photo credit: The Civil War Home Page. With thanks. searchphotos.asp?searchphot...


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