The Des Moines Symphony ended its 2016-2017 season with a (percussive) bang with works by Hindemith and Ravel bookending the world premiere of a commissioned video accompaniment to the Grant Wood-inspired American Gothic for Orchestra followed by cellist Matt Haimovitz’s brilliant performance of Saint-Saens’ Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor.
The Symphony, conducted by Joseph Giunta, concluded its 79th season May 14, 2017, with the seventh program in its Masterworks Subscription Series. The concert was recorded for later broadcast on Iowa Public Radio Classical on June 18-19 (http://iowapublicradio.org/post/2015-symphonies-iowa-listing-full-top-notch-concerts).
In the meantime, however, this video teaser produced by the Symphony gives an excellent overview of the ambitious program:
The program opened with Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber, completed in 1944 by Paul Hindemith (1895-1963). The German composer based each of his four movements on melodies borrowed from Weber’s piano and orchestral works. The first movement began with a invigorating statement by the brass and drums quickly taken up by the strings. The second movement reflected the Asian themes ultimately underlying von Weber’s overture to “Turandot”, a play by Friedrich Schiller. This movement also seemed to build upon themes first heard in the flutes and other woodwinds. The slower tempo of the third movement allowed my mind to wander until thankfully I was jerked awake by the final movement’s exciting march-like brass passages (am I the only one to hear a foreshadowing of the Star Wars theme here?). Bravo, French horns, trombones, and trumpets!
Here is a recording of the London Symphony Orchestra’s performance of the piece from 1977:
American Gothic for Orchestra, the next piece, was written by Cedar Rapids’ native Michael Daugherty and first performed in 2013 by Orchestra Iowa (the conductor of OI, Timothy Hankewich, was in the audience for this concert). Mr. Daugherty and filmmaker John Richard joined Conductor Giunta onstage to discuss the music and the filmmaking process. Mr. Richard explained how he drove or biked down gravel roads to gain inspiration for pairing the music with Grant Wood’s art and scenery from Iowa’s vast farmlands. I found it fascinating that he used a drone to film the soaring panoramas of Iowan fields over an 8-9 month period, capturing the different seasons. These clips seemed to perfectly match the melodies of the piece’s three movements: On a Roll, Winter Dreams, and Pitchfork. Mr. Daugherty, who has three Grammy awards, discussed his inspiration for the piece and his compositional use of bottles and other unusual percussion items.
This was a most enjoyable multimedia experience; the film only heightened my enjoyment of the music.
The Symphony’s video below discusses the commissioning and filmmaking process:
Following the intermission, cellist Matt Haimovitz took his place at center stage to perform the Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, written by French composer Camille Saint-Saens in 1873. His performance was energetic and animated, and although it is standard for professionals to play a 20-minute concerto from memory, the feat never ceases to amaze and impress me. Mr. Haimovitz rightly received a standing ovation, and to the audience’s delight he played as an encore the Sarabande from Bach’s Suite No. 3 in C major–exquisite.
The printed program notes state that Mr.Haimovitz plays a cello made in 1710 by Matteo Gofriller (just think of the travel issues stemming from transporting such an old and valuable instrument!). Here is a recording of Mr. Haimovitz performing the first movement of the Concerto when he was a mere 17 years old:
For the final selection, Maurice Ravel’s Bolero (1928), the stage lights were dimmed and individual soloists were spotlit as they performed the memorable theme. At the conclusion of this piece and the concert, the audience again gave a standing ovation. Before playing the final number, Conductor Giunta recognized performers who had played with the orchestra for 10, 20, even 35 years.
This performance lived up to the hype. Bravo, Des Moines Symphony!
Next season the Symphony’s emphasis will be on music written for dance, ranging from a Spanish-influenced ballet to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. For subscription and single ticket information, visit http://dmsymphony.org.
And don’t miss the free July 4th concert on the grounds of the state capitol (held on Monday, July 3, 2017)!