With what Dirk Meyer, DSSO Music Director, referred to as an “eclectic” program, the evening was unified with pieces that were sprightly and colorful, each with connections to dance.
“Ash,” by contemporary American composer Michael Torke, was written in 1988, and is part of a suite called Color Music. Each of the five pieces is a different color, with “Ash” adding to the musical palette of orange, blue, green, and purple.
The piece is an example of synesthesia, defined as the blending of the senses in which “the stimulation of one sense simultaneously produces sensation in a different sense.”
In Torke’s case, he blends seeing colors and hearing music and relating colors with notes, keys and chords. The composer described it as seeing “different shades of paint splash around the orchestral forces.”
The DSSO brilliantly captures Torke’s inventiveness with his look backwards to the classical and forward to his modern stamp on contemporary music. “Ash” has also been used as the music for a showpiece for the New York City Ballet, as an exciting score for solo and ensemble dance.
The evening’s second offering was “Piano Concerto in One Movement” by Florence Price, the first female African-American composer to earn a national reputation, and to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra. The “Piano Concerto in One Movement” premiered in Chicago in 1934 with Price as the piano soloist.
The guest piano soloist for the “Concerto” was Clayton Stephenson, named a 2017 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts and the winner of a few international competitions. He is a dual degree major at Harvard University as an Economics major and New England Conservatory as a Master of Music major in Piano.
Throughout the piece, Stephenson was engaged in a captivating dialogue between piano and orchestra. He and the orchestra thrillingly evoked the Concerto’s homage to spirituals, call and response, and to a dance called Juba, originally brought to Charleston, South Carolina, by Kongo slaves.
Both in the piano cadenzas and when playing with the orchestra, Stephenson had a virtuosic performance, bringing to exhilarating life this concerto that has been called “Rachmaninoff with an American accent.”
A musical postcard, Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A Major, OP. 90 (Italian), was the final piece in the crisp hour-long concert.
The inspiration for the “Italian Symphony” was a trip Mendelssohn made to Italy in 1830-31. While on the trip, he wrote his sister, “I have once more begun to compose with fresh vigor, and the Italian symphony makes rapid progress; it will be happiest piece I have ever written, especially the last movement.”
Adding to a dance motif of the evening was the first movement with its tarantella style rhythms and the whirlwind of a final movement, Saltarello—Presto, named after an energetic and buoyant dance, known for its “leaping” step in triple meter.
The DSSO takes their audience on an engaging, melodic trip through Italy, with Mendelssohn’s sunny musical impressions of the cities and countryside, and reflecting, as he described it, “the vitality of the people.”
If You 'Go'
What: Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra’s concert “Price and Mendelssohn”
When: April 17 in person at the DECC and streaming at “DSSO at Home”
Tickets: $10.00 at dsso.com or by calling 218-623-3776
Final upcoming concert “From Beethoven to Milhaud” on May 8 at 7 p.m.
Sheryl Jensen is a former teacher, magazine editor and director. She reviews performances for the News Tribune.