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18.1.08

NSO Celebrates Corigliano’s 70th Birthday

John Corigliano, composerLast night the National Symphony Orchestra performed John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 2, in honor of the composer’s 70th birthday. Due to Music Director Leonard Slatkin’s long musical friendship with Corigliano (pictured), the composer assisted in preparing the orchestra for Thursday evening’s performance and cordially addressed the audience about his motivation for each movement’s creation.

Having vowed earlier in his career to “never write a symphony,” Corigliano later succumbed to the grand form -- Symphony No. 1, for which recording the NSO won a Grammy -- to express the tragedy of losing countless friends to the AIDS epidemic. Symphony No. 2 for string orchestra was adapted from his String Quartet, written for the Cleveland Quartet’s farewell tour in 1996. The valedictory “farewell” premise of the work was also framed as a “chosen loss,” which perhaps assists one in understanding the work’s rather bleak demeanor. Indeed, at the end of a long journey through five movements of somewhat similar terrains -- the work is fused thematically -- the final Postlude movement repeats some of the first Prelude movement in retrograde.

Inner Scherzo, Nocturne, and Fugue movements all contained periods of both deliberate heaviness and virtuosic franticness, making one wish the work had a bit more definition. The Nocturne’s portrayal of the early morning muezzins of Fez, Morrocco, was perhaps too mellow, lacking the wailing, crying intensity of the call to prayer from the multiple minarets. The see-sawing between minor thirds after the "misaligned" Fugue was haunting, and overall the NSO musicians performed effortlessly.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Echoes of the Past, Amplified by the NSO (Washington Post, January 18)
The program opened with Mozart’s Overture to the Magic Flute and ended with Brahms’s Violin Concerto performed by Sarah Chang. The Mozart was wonderfully detailed, careful, and uniformly accented, while Chang's Brahms, seemingly somewhat stressed, did not match the NSO in cool virtuosic quality. Chang, lacking warmth in the lower register, was also outplayed by the wind section of the NSO in their absolutely lovely introduction to the Adagio movement.

Thursday’s performance made one keen to hear a recording of Corigliano’s Third Symphony, titled Circus Maximus for band, premiered in D.C. two years ago by Slatkin and the U.S. Marine Band. Apparently the work ends with a single sonic blast from a 12-gauge shotgun -- perhaps another fitting farewell.

This concert repeats today and tomorrow (January 19, 8 pm).

1 comment:

Marc Geelhoed said...

John Corigliano is 70?! How did I miss that? Wow.