Austin Symphony Orchestra With Leila Josefowicz

Peter Bay programmed a rich, innovative concert to kick off ASO's 98th season

Arts Review

Austin Symphony Orchestra With Leila Josefowicz

Dell Hall at the Long Center

Sept. 19

It's been awhile since the Austin Symphony had a new home, so Music Director Peter Bay programmed a rich and innovative concert to celebrate its arrival at the Long Center. From the first notes of Wagner's rousing "Prelude to Die Meistersinger," it

was clear that the ASO had in Dell Hall an apt musical partner. Joyous and well-balanced, the ensemble's performance of the overture was triumphant.

Next, the ASO welcomed virtuoso Leila Josefowicz to the stage, stunning in a modern Grecian gown, for the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D major. In the grand first movement, Josefowicz dazzled, swelling with the ensemble throughout and finding a subtle grace in the delicate material that carried through the concerto. Here the acoustics of the hall truly shone. In the quietest moments as in the most robust, the sound floated in the hall with incredible clarity. It was possible to hear the efforts of each individual section of the ensemble, and the integrity of the performance suggested the artists could hear one another just as easily. The only hiccup came in the final movement's cadenza. Josefowicz made an odd choice of solo material, overemphasizing the interaction with the timpanist and for a short time distracting focus from the unity of the beloved piece.

For the second act, the artistic pendulum swung for the world premiere of Christopher Theofanidis and Mark Wingate's Field of Infinite Forms. The subject of much anticipation, Forms came to be through an ASO commission and is both a sonic adventure and an experiment in collaborative form. Theofanidis wrote the piece in five movements and had Wingate pair them with his own electronic compositions. As Bay explained, the aim was to move beyond the second dimension, accomplished through the projection of Wingate's music in a surround-sound effect.

After much buildup, the piece began with a bang. As the orchestra exploded in sound, so too did Wingate's antiphonal music, literally bouncing from wall to wall like electrons around the ensemble's nucleus. The two efforts united for the second movement in an ephemeral exploration of a single melodic line. The third, a technical juggernaut, called upon the orchestra to play off the furious intricacies of Wingate's score. Bay led the ensemble to a technical brilliance, breathing life into the hall. The fourth movement came off as an ode to an adventure-film score. As the sonic explosions of the final movement passed between the orchestra and the speaker systems, I closed my eyes to simply listen.

The net result of the piece, based on the audience's response, was a mixed bag. Some immediately rose to their feet, while others seemed confused. I was of the latter sort. As an experience alone, the piece was exhilarating and physical. Musically, however, the projected material often canceled out the live performance and fell short of presenting the two approaches as a unified whole. A good test of any piece is to peel away the layers of spectacle and consider the simple nature of the form as exemplified in an anonymous quote: "Music is what feelings sound like." Taken simply, for all the energy of its sounds, Forms left little in the way of a deep and lasting impression.

It was perhaps this sentiment that made the final performance of the night soar even higher. Bay and his ensemble brought Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite" to life before the packed hall with a confident and unrestrained performance that built to an awesome conclusion. After all, this was their night, their homecoming, and the audience rewarded with a roaring welcome, the bravos bouncing off the walls.

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Austin Symphony Orchestra, Leila Josefowicz, Christopher Theofanidis, Mark Wingate, Field of Infinite Forms

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