had the inspiration to close the 2003 Aspen Music Festival with Berlioz'
Grande messe des morts (Requiem) deserves a pat on the back.
Four brass choirs stationed strategically around the outer edge of the
2,050-seat Benedict Music Tent and the visiting Colorado Symphony Orchestra
Chorus arrayed behind an outsized orchestra gave conductor David Zinman
the necessary elements to whip up plenty of drama. Even Mother Nature
conspired with the massed musical forces, opening up a thunderous rain
shower as the chorus sang the first words of the "Lacrymosa." The sun
did not come out again until, as if on cue, it emerged as the chorus
intoned the final "amens."
Music Tent is a permanent round structure with padded louvers around
the side allowing those inside some ventilation and those seated on
the lawn outside access to the music. It's a testament to the intensity
of the music that most of the lawn crowd stayed put, sprouting bumbershoots
but remaining to the soggy finish. The music making was worth it.
Berlioz Requiem has some breathtaking moments, the most famous
of which arrives when all those brass choirs get going all at once.
It comes in the "Dies irae," the second of 10 sections, when Berlioz
introduces the "Tuba mirum" with an extended fanfare that rockets around
the four brass choirs. At a festival where the associated music school
has 750 students, gathering up the necessary musicians was not difficult.
They made a glorious sound.
the most powerful moments, for my ears, were the quieter ones. Berlioz
probably intended just that, the contrast with the big moments being
all the more dramatic. The warm, almost homely orchestral music weaving
around the chorus' chant-like line in "Offertorium" was one high point.
And the soft sound of trombones alone coming from the four corners of
the concert space was almost heartbreaking as it underlined the final
quiet "amens." The gentle purity of sustained chords behind tenor Matthew
Polanzani as he softly floated the "Sanctus" created another fine moment,
segueing into a beautifully legato choral fugue on "Hosanna in excelsis."
(And then both repeat.) The chorus also distinguished itself on the
a capella fugue on "Quaerems me."
all that, the opening "Requiem et Kyrie" came off as bland, the "Rex
tremendae" more pompous than majestic, and the odd orchestration in
"Hostias" just sounded, well, odd, not special.
in the end, as the sun emerged on those final, trombone-textured "amens,"
it was hard to shake the feeling that all was right with the world,
Requiem put an exclamation mark on a strong final weekend of music,
which included a world premiere of a piece for bassoon and string quartet
that ought to get more hearings and a lovely performance of Christopher
Rouse's 1993 flute concerto, which is getting to be a favorite of flutists.
Dibner, associate principal bassoon for the San Francisco Symphony,
commissioned The Wind Won't Listen, Fantasy for Bassoon and String
Quartet by composer Dan Welcher, whose opera, Della's Gift,
was performed this year by New York City Opera. Welcher wrote the piece
in 2001, inspired by a poem, Split, by Beth Gylys, about dealing
with divorce. The titles of the two movements are from the poem and
quote those lines from the song.
haunting work is in two sections. The first, Romanza: Everyone I
Know Is Crying, opens with broken sustained chords in the string
quartet. The cello carries the seventh, which makes the music hang in
the air suspended, ungrounded, a perfect setup for the long, almost
conversational line of the bassoon, mostly playing in its highest register.
At first, the effect is more like a lament for tenor, but as the music
picks up rhythmic steam in the second part, Recitative and Variations:
Life Makes Itself Without Us, the bassoon uses all of its range
and plenty of its idiomatic turns, including staccato runs. But mainly,
the bassoon's line is long and languid. Dibner, whose sound is sweet
and his musicianship impeccable, carried it off winningly, even soulfully.
Euclid String Quartet, one of three young professional quartets holding
fellowships at the Aspen Festival this year, brought a stylish flair
for rhythm and delicate sound to the strings' role in Welcher's piece.
The musical language is only mildly dissonant, although its tonality
is often ambiguous. (At one point Welcher quotes, appropriately enough,
Wagner's "Tristan" chord.)
another, the rhythm settles into alternating 5/8 and 3/4 measures, which
leads to another section that scurries like some familiar moments in
the Bartok quartets, and there's even a section reminiscent of repeated,
insistent chords of "Rite of Spring." For all that, the piece does not
sound derivative, more like a series of knowing, passing references.
The bassoon's line carries the day the way a singer might in an operatic
recitative, aria and cabaletta.
the Welcher piece on the Saturday afternoon chamber music program was
a real rarity, Hindemith's Die Serenaden, a 1924 cantata for
mezzo-soprano and an unusual chamber ensemble. Susanne Mentzer, who
has sung brilliantly this summer, brought her rich sound and solid musicianship
to bear on Hindemith's stubbornly un-Romantic music for Romantic poetry.
Joining her were veteran oboist Philip West, now at the Eastman School
of Music; violist Lynn Ramsey, who plays in the Cleveland Orchestra,
and cellist William Grubb, who directs the string chamber music program
Die Serenaden Hindemith purposely set out to show that Romantic
poetry didn't require heart-on-the-sleeve music. As a result, the soloist
hardly ever soars, becoming instead just another line in the counterpoint.
Mentzer, however, has far too much distinctiveness in her voice not
to stand out, even when she is diligently trying to be just one of the
the Rouse Flute Concerto the soloist was Martha Aarons, a flutist
with the Cleveland Orchestra. She brought a soulful sound to the slow
outer movements of the five-movement work, both of which, with their
long, modal lines against sustained, open chords, call to mind Irish
or Scots ballads. (The American-born composer has both strains in his
ancestry.) The second movement is a march that keeps tripping over itself
and the fourth keeps trying to be a jig, but the long central movement,
"Elegia," is the one into which Rouse poured the most emotion. He wrote
it as a elegy for James Bulger, the two-year-old who was murdered by
two 10-year-olds in England in 1993, the year the piece was written.
my ears, the keen sense of tragedy in the mostly quiet music doesn't
need the violent, dissonant orchestral outburst just before the end
(representing Rouse's own howl of anger). It's just too obvious. But
the rest, especially the eloquent, complex flute line, is worth hearing
many times. Conductor Marin Alsop, who leads the Bournemouth Symphony
these days, refused to indulge in too much sentiment. Rouse's music
has plenty on its own.