Nationwide Symphony Orchestra’s ‘Symphonic Shock’ packs a punch


On Thursday, the Nationwide Symphony Orchestra introduced one other installment of what has turn out to be a practice underneath maestro Gianandrea Noseda: the “Symphonic Shock.” For this program, audiences go in with no indication of what music lies in retailer and solely their instinct to attach the notes.

Why preserve the contents of a program underneath wraps? Properly, for one, it makes for a enjoyable guessing recreation. Noseda’s impromptu quizmaster routine on the conclusion of every piece permits for an informal forwards and backwards between the orchestra and viewers members, who usually depend on music and applause to speak.

For an additional? To be frank, there simply might need been rather less pleasure within the air (and fewer cheeks within the seats) had the NSO come clear and billed this system “An Night of Unpopular Tone Poems.”

Fortunately, this subterfuge labored in everybody’s favor. In reality, the true shock of the “Symphonic Shock” wasn’t a lot studying the id of the items and their composers. It was the lingering feeling lengthy afterward that we must always most likely be making this secret program extra routine.

Typical data tells us that audiences haven’t any urge for food for unfamiliar repertoire. Nevertheless it seems that if you happen to simply preserve them fully at midnight, the alienating out of the blue turns into tantalizing. Need people to spend their night snacking on tone poems about Tenth-century Norwegian rulers and daughter-snatching water goblins? Merely decline to say the menu.

On Thursday — and at repeat performances on Friday and Saturday (which is why we pumped the brakes on this “shock” assessment) — the orchestra supplied a four-course serving of symphonic poems: Bedrich Smetana’s 1861 “Haakon Jarl”; Antonin Dvorak’s 1896 “Vodník” (or “The Water Goblin”); Max Reger’s 1913 “Der geigende Eremit” (one in every of a set of 4 tone poems primarily based on the work of Arnold Böcklin); and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Caprice bohémien” (which Noseda prefaced as “not a tone poem, however shut sufficient”).

The tone poem is a type of types that may be fudged and smudged a bit. A number of them sprang up proper earlier than the flip of the twentieth century, when all types of formal, harmonic and aesthetic bolts had been starting to loosen throughout the humanities. It’s a kind well-suited to wild bursts of late-Romantic ardour and sudden flashes of futurist inspiration — extra of a sketchbook than a canvas. Within the huge metropolis of a symphony, the streets and avenues of keys and tempos may also help you discover your bearings. A tone poem is extra like a path into the woods.

Noseda has a knack for storytelling — and never simply when he remembers he has a microphone up there, but in addition in his interpretation of music. He is aware of methods to pool and launch vitality, methods to play with tempo and pressure. He has the conductor’s equal of comedian timing. You may’t actually contact these items with out this sort of sensibility. (To get an thought of what I imply, ask Siri to learn you a bedtime story.)

This talent was on full show within the Smetana. “Haakon Jarl” charts the rocky reign of the titular ruler who favored the Norse gods and fought the advance of the Holy Roman Emperor Otto II in addition to additional makes an attempt to Christianize Norway. Enjoyable stuff, I do know. However the orchestra’s telling made the story gripping, even if you happen to dissociate from the small print.

Deep, wealthy, unison strings opened the story like a powerful wind throughout a fjord. The physique of the music swelled with gusty surges and rose into bristling climaxes. Adriana Horne supplied glistening harp interludes earlier than a beautiful passage of woodwinds reduce by by Peter Cain’s lowing bass clarinet. The piece tightened and quickened into the hover of a hornet earlier than resolving right into a farewell of strings so heroic you half-expected credit to roll. (Props to Jauvon Gilliam for that titanic tympanic end.)

Dvorak’s “Water Goblin,” tailored from the poem by Karel Jaromír Erben, was additionally expertly informed — the icy, limpid floor etched by the strings barely hid a lurking menace under. Violas slinked atop pizzicato bass punctuation as Noseda whipped up a whirlwind of violins. A rhythmic motif tapped out all through felt like a tether tied to the shore — a strand of hope. Noseda declined to inform us your complete story of what occurs to the daughter kidnapped into the lake by the goblin. (In contrast to this efficiency, it ain’t fairly.)

The Reger was a fabulous instance of musical ekphrasis — i.e., poetry about artwork. “Der geigende Eremit” takes Böcklin’s depiction of a fiddling hermit as its inspiration, and concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef delivered an achingly stunning studying that felt extra like a portrayal. Noseda later described the piece’s “lengthy state of ecstatic magnificence,” and in its glowing, sustained textures, you may detect Reger’s life as an organist. Aside from the shock marimba solo contributed by somebody’s cellphone, it was a pristine efficiency.

Rachmaninoff’s “Caprice bohémien” — which follows within the footsteps of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capricho español” and Tchaikovsky’s “Capriccio Italien” — offered a rousing end, with shimmering strings and lovely contributions from flutist Aaron Goldman, clarinetist Lin Ma and cellist David Hardy. Your entire percussion part was on prime of this propulsive piece’s many tambourines, rattles and gongs, which culminate into an explosive end.

A “Symphonic Shock” might have been slightly late for Halloween, however its signature trick turned out to be an actual deal with. Seize baggage of largely discarded deep cuts, forgotten tone poems and canonical duds are a good way to smuggle new repertoire into the room.

However can adventurous applications akin to this one be met with such a heat reception with out the shroud of secrecy? Orchestras on the whole ought to push these buttons and their audiences extra usually. They may be stunned.

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