Under the lively baton of guest conductor JoAnn Falletta, the Des Moines Symphony ably performed selections from Brahms, Bruckner, and Bolcom during the 4th Program of the 2016-2017 Masterworks Subscription Series. A special treat featured the Oasis Quartet made up of saxophonists from Iowa, Texas, and Ohio.
Winter Sunday afternoons are tailor-made for classical concerts, and this Sunday proved no exception as the auditorium of the Des Moines Civic Center echoed with the sound of strings, brass, and percussion, intermixed with the amazing sax sounds of the Oasis Quartet.
After snagging a “Back In” parking space on a nearby street bridging the Des Moines River (note: the photo was taken a few blocks away on a different afternoon and is inserted to illustrate the back-in principle for those unfamiliar with this common Des Moines parking requirement), I strolled over to the Civic Center in time to catch most of the pre-concert talk in the Stoner Theater. This was my first time to listen to the pre-concert talk, and not surprisingly I found that learning a bit about the composers and the context of their compositions, as well as hearing some excerpts of the upcoming pieces, added significantly to my enjoyment of the afternoon’s program, as described below.
The first piece, Johannes Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80 (1881), comprised four German student tunes and proved to be a lively piece with familiar themes. The guest conductor, Joann Falletta, Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Virginia Symphony, energetically directed the musicians and graciously spoke of her week in Des Moines. I also enjoyed watching the woodwinds and trumpet players from my seat midway up and to stage left.
Next up was the Oasis Quartet performing William Bolcom’s Concerto Grosso for Saxophone Quartet & Orchestra (2000). The Quartet was founded in 2006 and includes Indianola’s Simpson College Associate Professor of Music Dave Camwell on tenor sax; James Romain, Professor of Saxophone and Associate Director of Jazz Studies at Drake University in Des Moines, on baritone sax; Nathan Nabb, Professor of Saxophone at Stephen F. Austin University, on soprano sax; and James Bunte, saxophonist with the Cincinnati Symphony, on alto sax. This concerto by American composer Bolcom, born in 1938 and winner of numerous Grammies as well as the Pulitzer Prize in 1988, consists of four movements which allowed the performers to shine individually and as a quartet.
After intermission the Symphony turned hard core with Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major, “Romantic” (1881), a seriously long piece with four movements. The theme, which I recognized thanks to the pre-concert talk, began in the French horns and was echoed by flutes and other woodwinds. The fourth movement repeated this theme but to my by-this-time tired ears seemed to loop intermidably before reaching its finale. All in all, this was a satisfying symphonic concert.
If you go: The Des Moines Symphony’s next concert, “Pictures at an Exhibition,” is scheduled for March 4th and 5th, 2017 https://dmsymphony.org/. For more information on the Oasis Quartet, including musical excerpts and schedule info, visit http://www.oasisquartet.com/index.php.