Review: DSSO guest conductor, chorus keep ‘Inspirations’ energy highJudging by audience response, Saturday night’s program by the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, “Divine Inspirations,” was a tremendously pleasing event.
By: Samuel Black, for the News Tribune
Judging by audience response, Saturday night’s program by the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, “Divine Inspirations,” was a tremendously pleasing event. Twice, the audience was unhesitating in its standing ovation for the musical performance, as well as the overt passion of guest candidate conductor Mariusz Smolij.
The first standing ovation followed the spiraling intensity of “Exodus,” a 1981 piece for orchestra and chorus by Polish composer Wojciech Kilar. The DSSO chorus, prepared by Matthew Faerber, rose to intense heights in about nine minutes with a hymn of praise from the ancient Israelites for deliverance at the time of Moses and the Red Sea. (Significantly, in 1981 the “Red Sea” was the Russian army, about to meet its match in the political perseverance of the Polish Solidarity movement.)
After a harp introduction, a solo clarinet intoned a melody that captivated the orchestra, section by section. After about 12 minutes of growing exuberance, I half expected the audience to start marching around the auditorium, chanting the tune. But about that time, the 100-plus members of the chorus did start chanting and raised the energy level until the final “hosanna.”
The ensemble and conductor were powerful and focused as the DSSO performed this piece for the first time.
Smolij opened the concert with the “Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture” by Peter Tchaikovsky. Even this perennial favorite was fresh, passionately seared by the mature composure Smolij brought to the podium. The billowing final statement of the love theme by the entire orchestra was like waves on Lake Superior in November.
The second choral offering, “Gesang der Parzen,” or “Song of the Fates, Op. 89,” by Johannes Brahms, was another first performance by the DSSO. This dark, brooding questioning of the Olympic gods by an ancient Greek chorus allowed the choir to share a traditional, warm sound.
Curiously, as the gods ignored a new generation, the rhythm changed from a solemn four-count measure to a more lyrical three. Then the performers returned to the more somber tempo, shaking their heads at the oblivious persistence of the older gods. The chorus was rich and balanced, and much of the German was quite understandable.
Smolij then took the DSSO out from the dark Hellenistic caves into the brilliance of the four scenes celebrating “The Pines of Rome, Op. 141,” composed in 1924 by the Italian Ottorino Respighi.
From the feisty children’s games on the “Villa Borghese,” the mood shifted to a nearby “Catacomb,” where the low brass instruments sang a hymn from its sacred depths. Then the clarinet and cello combined with the recorded sounds of birds to stroll happily along the “Janiculum.”
Finally, with hints of the Roman army on the “Appian Way,” the insistent bass drum and tympani were joined by four trumpets from the stage balconies. At the height of excitement, Smolij had the entire brass section stand to praise the pines as part of the glory of ancient Rome.
Once again, the audience had no choice. What the brass had so resonantly begun was meant to be finished by an audience on its feet, applauding and shouting its enthusiastic endorsement.
Samuel Black is a Duluth pianist and writer who reviews musical events for the News Tribune.