SLOW RIDE

Santa Fe Sym­phony Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter, March 20

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Fol­low­ing the usual speeches, last week­end’s Santa Fe Sym­phony con­cert got off to a very slow start with a static ren­di­tion of the Can­tus in memo­riam Ben­jamin Brit­ten, writ­ten in 1977, the year af­ter Brit­ten’s death, by the Es­to­nian com­poser Arvo Pärt. Though he was in his for­ties, Pärt had not yet achieved the adu­la­tion in West­ern Europe or Amer­ica that would even­tu­ally come his way. This was one of the pieces that helped es­tab­lish the “tintinnab­uli” style that would make him rec­og­niz­able: bell-like res­o­nances (some­times played by bells, some­times by other in­stru­ments or by voices) that ar­tic­u­late the notes of a tonic triad while a melody part pro­ceeds in slow, step­wise mo­tion, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the parts be­ing gov­erned by a the­o­ret­i­cal pat­tern of in­ter­ac­tion de­vised by the com­poser. The pro­gram ad­vised lis­ten­ers that “there is no form in this mu­sic” — an as­ton­ish­ing as­ser­tion if not a bona fide im­pos­si­bil­ity. In this case, the form is de­fined prin­ci­pally by lay­ers of de­scend­ing scale frag­ments be­gun se­quen­tially by the var­i­ous string sec­tions at dif­fer­ent pitch lev­els and pro­por­tion­ally slower tem­pos. The vi­o­lins had trou­ble play­ing in rhyth­mic uni­son at this creep­ing pace, and the ef­fect was un­hap­pier than even the com­poser can have in­tended. Oriol Sans, au­di­tion­ing to be the orches­tra’s next prin­ci­pal con­duc­tor, led the piece with ex­u­ber­ant ges­tures that seemed to have noth­ing to do with the piece and that the mu­si­cians largely ig­nored.

A long five min­utes later, all en­ergy hav­ing been drained from the hall, there was a break to re­ar­range the stage for Stravin­sky’s Pul­cinella Suite. As with all of Stravin­sky’s neo­clas­si­cal pieces, this one re­lies on rhyth­mic point and tex­tu­ral translu­cence, nei­ther of which was much on dis­play. The wood­wind choir re­peat­edly gar­bled its mo­ments in the spot­light, and of­ten the play­ers sim­ply gave up on their phrase ends. The Ser­e­nata move­ment was so slow it seemed to be sleep­walk­ing, ren­dered yet more en­er­vated by leaden down­beats. No over­rid­ing con­cep­tion of the piece seemed to have been worked out in re­hearsal, and Sans’ rudi­men­tary con­duct­ing tech­nique gen­er­ated lit­tle in­spi­ra­tion in the mo­ment.

Brahms’ Ser­e­nade No. 1, from 1857-1860, was a stop­ping- off point along his long path to his First Sym­phony, which he would not man­age to com­plete for yet an­other 16 years. It’s a pleas­ant piece, me­an­der­ing some­times dis­tract­edly through its six move­ments. The orches­tra played far bet­ter here than it had in the con­cert’s first half, and Sans led a com­fort­able, breezy read­ing of the open­ing Al­le­gro molto, work­ing up to con­sid­er­able vi­tal­ity as the move­ment pro­gressed; and the sec­ond of the two Scher­zos was in­fused with vigor that re­called the cor­re­spond­ing sec­tion of Beethoven’s Sec­ond Sym­phony. The slow move­ment ( Ada­gio

non troppo) presents the big­gest chal­lenge to an in­ter­preter, and it did rather drag the piece down in this con­cert. As in the Stravin­sky, rhythms seemed in­ert. A horn melody that ap­pears re­peat­edly and is then taken up by other winds in­volves a briefly syn­co­pated rhythm that might add buoy­ancy or per­haps push for­ward in ex­pec­ta­tion. Here, it re­minded a lis­tener of a be­gin­ning pi­anist sight read­ing “Hello! Ma Baby”: no di­rec­tion, no mys­tery — just a rhythm sounded out. Even this oddly con­ceived pro­gram of­fered many pos­si­bil­i­ties for a con­duc­tor to show some imag­i­na­tion, but Sans availed him­self of few of those op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Let us not take leave of the Santa Fe Sym­phony with­out con­grat­u­lat­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion on its re­vamped web­site. It looks good, it is forth­right to nav­i­gate, and it projects a level of pro­fes­sion­al­ism one hopes will be de­manded by who­ever is named the group’s prin­ci­pal con­duc­tor.

— James M. Keller

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