Led by Conductor Joseph Giunta, the Des Moines Symphony’s Masterworks 6 concert “Beyond the Score: Berlioz’s ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ coupled an educational, multimedia program with the full performance of this 5-movement symphony that showcased the orchestra’s excellent woodwind section.
Outside it was just another gray and rainy April afternoon, but inside the spacious Des Moines Civic Center the audience at the April 2 matinee concert was treated to over two hours of musical entertainment which included the multimedia program “Beyond the Score” produced by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
My first stop was the Concert Prelude Talk given by Arlene DeVries in the Stoner Theater section of the Civic Center. Two of the orchestra’s French horn players joined Ms. DeVries at the beginning of her talk: principal horn player Bret Seebeck and alternate Eric McIntyre. They demonstrated a valve-less French horn that would have been used during Berlioz’s time. Playing this “period” instrument appeared challenging to say the least, as some notes could only be played by placement of the player’s hand inside the horn’s bell! After the musicians departed to warm up for the concert, Ms DeVries explained a bit about the Symphonie Fantastique and Berlioz’s interesting life and his obsession with various women. I highly recommend attending these pre-concert talks to gain an understanding and appreciation of the musical pieces that will be played.
The first half of the program “Beyond the Score” featured a screen behind the orchestra which showed drawings and paintings relating to what the program described as “a dramatic exploration of a composer’s music.” The Chicago-based actor Matthew Krause portrayed Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) as a romantic, energetic composer who flaunted the time’s restrictive rules of composition. Krause believably interpreted Berlioz’s life in Paris and his obsession with English actress Harriett Smithson, and the interaction between Krause as Berlioz and Maestro Giunta lent a comical note to the otherwise dramatic presentation. Tenor Edwin Griffith and dancer Eleanor Danaan shared the stage at certain points of the program, and altogether this hour-long program met its goal of entertainment and education.
The second half of the program was notable–to me–for the number of trumpet and French horn players (4 each). The brass certainly shone in the last two movements: the March to the Scaffold and The Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath. One of the earlier movements featured an interplay between the English horn (a deeper version of an oboe) and the oboe (offstage) and I had a perfect view of the English horn player which added to my interest.
Conclusion: Success–an afternoon symphony performance that managed to keep my interest throughout (with no nodding off)!
Information about the Des Moines Symphony, including the line-up for the 2017-2018 season, can be found at https://dmsymphony.org/