Ah, Vienna. Long heralded as one of, if not the most, celebrated of European cultural centers for hundreds of years, the capital city of Austria is a natural destination for classical music. The Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra treated its capacity audience in Symphony Hall to an exquisite musical holiday abroad in its second program of its season's Grand Adventures Theme: New Horizons.
Arnold Shoenberg was considered a musical revolutionary in the early 20th century, influenced by Brahms and Wagner. The DSSO's Saturday-night performance of his work Transfigured Night, which debuted in Vienna on March 18, 1902, was a thing of glory for strings, a exquisite representation of German late-Romanticism based on a poem by Richard Dehmel. Composed in less than a month's time, the rich depth of the composition is what makes it an important work. The orchestra took a deep dive into the poem's drama, layering violins and cellos in one flowing movement, essentially rhyming with the intensity of the poetry that begins, "Two people are walking through a bare, cold wood." The orchestra's strength in its string section was majestically on display, pushing Schoenberg's envelope of tonality, carrying the notes from wisps of aural mist to climactic ending, under the baton of Dirk Meyer. In the scope of Symphony Hall, the intimacy of Transfigured Night made the experience reminiscent of the beauty of a chamber ensemble experience.
From the unbridled newness of an early 20th century Shoenberg, we travel nearly 200 miles west to Salzburg, home of a 19-year-old wunderkind by the name of Mozart. Virtuoso award-winning Russian-American violinist, Yevgeny Kutik, took the stage with the orchestra, to bring exuberant life into Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3.
The concerto was another opportunity for the string section of the DSSO to show, with a flourish, its chops in this authentic violin concerto. This was a beautiful performance in three movements for flutes, oboes, horns, and strings. The allegro was bright and exuberantly paced, with its energetic violins complemented by horns. The orchestra sounded crisp in the hall, and it's no wonder why Mozart sounds compelling with every new century.
Just over a minute into the movement came the masterful solo violin performance by Kutik. He struck a commanding and confident figure on the vast stage in his presentation. His performance in the allegro, the stronger movement, was a beautiful accompaniment to our orchestra, a happy conversation between violin and the rest of the instrumentation before the movement's recapitulation, inviting in, again, the full aural experience of horns, oboes, and flutes. The intricacy of Kutik's bow technique and the showmanship of his performance exhibited why this musician is celebrated so widely. Equally, the orchestra's accompaniment showcased its own high caliber of performance, warranting a standing ovation at the end of the tour-de-force half-hour long concerto.
In February 1814, a 41-year-old Ludwig von Beethoven premiered what he called his "Little symphony in F" in the imperial palace of the Habsburg dynasty in Vienna.
One could tell that the continuing Beethoven project by the DSSO is a favorite of music director Dirk Meyer. His direction of Beethoven's Symphony No. 8 was a joyous celebration of the best of the composer.
A triumphant and strong first movement showed the orchestra kept its vibrant energy throughout the night. In fact, the piece demanded it, since there really is no slow movement in the symphony. It is in turns grandiose and elegant, the orchestra on stage was mesmerizing in its often frenetic performance filled with bursts of finely choreographed unity.
After its premier in Vienna, the audience gave it tepid applause. It infuriated Beethoven. He would have been much happier in Duluth. Symphony Hall rewarded the performance of the "little symphony" with accolades.
The Grand Adventure of this season of the DSSO does not disappoint so far. The visit to Vienna was powerful, elegant, and inspiring.
Dennis Kempton is a Duluth-based freelance arts and culture writer.