“Opening Night” for the Savannah Philharmonic
By Ashia Dimiya, blogger / La Femme de Musica
Read the original article here
The crescendo and decrescendo of the audiences’ nervous chatter pervaded the air, the sold out seats creaked with anticipation of their prospective guests, and the sweat of nervousness above each musician’s brow could be seen glistening as they carefully tuned and re-tuned their instruments; Opening Night for the Savannah Philharmonic had officially arrived.
It was my first time hearing the Savannah Philharmonic, but the buzz surrounding their level of musicianship, and professionalism far outreached the Georgia border to sit upon my ears down in Tallahassee, Florida. As I sat perched near the edge of my balcony level seat awaiting the start of the performance, several thoughts ran through my head. The first, of course, took me back to the days of the original Savannah Symphony of which my brother played Horn in. I longed for those days, and thankfully, it seems that there were others in Savannah who missed the classical music culture as well. I wondered how charismatic the conductor would be, how rich the low brass would sound, and of course, how well the Horns would perform.
They opened with a roaring rendition of Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain”. The violins did an excellent job at setting the creepy mood from the beginning before the brass grabbed the menacing motif that would be heard throughout the first half of the piece being passed back and forth between different sections of the orchestra. Before long, that first menacing motif ends before a short pause begins and the woodwinds bring in a sinister waltz that gains momentum before the violins bring in an alternate countermelody. Savannah Philharmonic performed this piece quite well.
Their second piece was Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto performed by Yejin Noh, a promising young pianist from South Korea whom Peter Shannon, the conductor, met while judging a piano competition. She appeared on stage in a beautiful fiery red, strapless gown and positioned herself in front of the piano. Her fingers glided skillfully across the keys as Peter, Yejin and the orchestra continued in a wonderfully crafted musical conversation. The orchestra responded to her very well, taking note of when important riffs appeared in her part, as well as her incredible cadenza. She was nothing short of the word “terrific”. I expect that we will hear great things about this young lady in the years to come.
The final piece, the one I had been waiting on the entire night was Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, cleverly abbreviated by all musicians as “Shosty 5”. As a Horn player, I was only really particularly concerned with their part more than anything else going on in the orchestra. However, I could not help but be entranced with the emotionally charged melodies emanating from the violins, and cellos before a beautiful flute solo permeated its way through the thickness. Before long, a new motif was introduced and passed around until it reached the Principal Horn, who performed it beautifully, just as the trumpets began a fanfare “royal processional” type chant. SAV-Phil’s trumpets soared superbly, and confidently over the orchestra with their motif, while taking care to balance with the Horns triumphant countermelody. The promising flute solo returns briefly before rolling into the second movement.
The second movement opens with a very haunting atmosphere that is forcibly met with the triumphant, and very popular Horn audition excerpt. I was fond of the SAV-Phil’s control and overall execution of the excerpt, because it is definitely one of the more difficult in the Horn repertoire. This movement is very theatrical, dramatic, and fascinating as it very obviously highlights Shostakovich’s adoration of Mahler’s musical inclinations. After a dramatic ritardando, the entire orchestra picks up a motif from the first movement but plays it almost in half-time. A bit of the very humanistic qualities of love, romance, and passion begin to seep into the second movement through the Horn and Flute duet, as well as the clarinet solo. This bit foreshadows what is to come for the third movement.
The third movement is one of the most heart-wrenching movements I think I have heard in my entire life. Shostakovich masterfully executes this fireball of emotion by craftfully utilizing the violins to draw out the pain and suffering of the music right from the beginning. With the amount of emotion swirling during this movement, it is no wonder that during the premiere of this piece back in late November of 1937 that the audience ended up in tears!
The Finale opens similarly to that of the first movement – very bold, and victorious. Here again, we can hear the heavy Mahler influence. The last movement is really a culmination of all the different motifs, with new ones of course, stirred into an intricately developed and expertly woven tapestry of excellence.
My favorite part of this performance, aside from the Horn section and Brass in general, has to be Peter Shannon’s “vest throw”, either from exasperation, excitement, satisfaction, a combination of those three, or a myriad of different emotions.
The entire concert, in my humble opinion, was very well executed. The orchestra, the guest artist, and the conductor all worked in tandem to create an Opening Night that Savannah won’t soon forget. My hats off to the Savannah Philharmonic for a wonderful concert. And horns, I took every breath with you before and after every phrase – a special hat off to ya’ll as well.