With a program as diverse as last night's Colorado Symphony concert, it's difficult to decide what's most important or most impressive. Michael Daugherty's Time Machine opened the concert with the orchestra divided into three with three dynamic conductors each taking their roll in escorting the audience through the experience. The second half started with the light-hearted romp of Brahms Hungarian Dances and ends with the immensely rich and demanding Rachmaninoff 2nd Symphony.
Marin Alsop conducted the Rachmaninoff with her typical grace, intelligence and flare for capturing the nuances of the masters. Rachmaninoff's 2nd Symphony is a monster lasting over 50 minutes filled with lush melodies and complex layers. Alsop doesn't just follow the score, but is tireless in her expression of where the music is going. Each extravagant theme is painted perfectly amid a profusion of orchestral color. The Colorado Symphony responds as if the conductor and the musicians are one organism, breathing to life a music filled with all the complexity of life itself. Tender moments with solos by Yumi Hwang-William on the violin in the first moment, Bil Jackson on the clarinet, Peter Cooper on the oboe and Brook Schoenwald on the flute in the third movement were fraught with emotion, while the gritty intricate pizzicato layers from the strings, the bold themes or the precise accents by the brass, the rich overlays by the woodwinds or the complex rhythms of the percussion were all ravishingly Rachmaninoff. This is not a easy piece and yet Marin Alsop and the Colorado Symphony made it feel effortless.
Just prior to the Rachmaninoff 2nd Symphony were Brahms Hungarian Dances No. 5 & 6. Since there were two guest conductors, it seemed appropriate they would each get a chance to conduct these delightful orchestral romps. Mihaela Cesa-Goje was first on the podium with No. 5. Her Romanian background gives her unique insight into the music with the musicians of the Colorado Symphony in-tune to her every request. Mihaela is a Taki Concordia Conducting Fellow under the tutelage of Maestro Alsop. She seemed a bit hesitant, lacking the confidence of a more seasoned conductor. Still, Mihaela captured a freshness to the music not often heard in such a popular piece. Kelly Corcoran, the assistant conductor with the Nashville Symphony danced about the podium for No. 6 as if she'd just discovered she has gypsy heritage. Kelly was gracefully and fun, articulate yet flowing. It was nearly as much fun watching her conduct as it was listening to the orchestra. She exudes such poise and confidence it is impossible not to follow her every request; the Colorado Symphony has played this piece hundreds of times and yet doubtful they have ever played it better.
The concert opened with Michael Daugherty's Time Machine for Three Conductors and Orchestra. Because the piece requires three conductors with the orchestra divided into three sections, the setup of the musicians is wholly unique (and took nearly the entire intermission to re-set the stage for the Brahms and Rachmaninoff). Marin Alsop conducted the main thrust of musicians in the center of the stage with Ms Corcoran and Ms Cesa-Goje taking smaller elements to the side. As all three conductors are operating in different time signature and tempos, the demand of intense concentration by all three is continuous throughout both the first and second movements.
The first movement, Past, is an exploration of Renaissance music juxtaposed against Romantic themes. With the orchestra in three different sections I expected to hear each section perform themes unique unto itself. This wasn't the case as the two Renaissance elements played ostensibly variations of the same theme. The three orchestral elements is an interesting concept, but not one the first movement really explores with great effect.
The second movement, Future, drives into the future attempting to capture a freshness the same way modern film makers are exploring 3D effects in modern films. Here Daugherty shows his strength, capturing a sense of 21st century music, pointing the way toward what music is to become with extraordinarily complex poly-rhythms, extensive use of percussion and rich exploration of orchestral color without the restrictions of Romantic melodic form. The second movement is densely layered with elements of interwoven rhythms, striking accents of percussion and aleotoric phrases determined on the fly by conductors Cesa-Goje and Corcoran.
Daugherty is one of the leading composers of the 21st century. Time Machine is a wonderful example of why so many young composers are attempting to follow in his footsteps. He is to modern orchestral music what Heinrich Schutz was to the Baroque, a leader, an innovator, a beacon that future composers will emulate. Time Machine is not an atonal assault on the ears and musical tradition, but a glimpse at what orchestral music is to become.
The Colorado Symphony only has one more night of this rich and diverse program. This may well be the only time in your life you get to see three accomplished conductors on the stage simultaneously (never mind that they are women in an field dominated by men). From the intensely modern Time Machine, the rollicking dances of Brahms and the lush melodies of Rachmaninoff's 2nd Symphony, this is a concert that strikes chords in so many ways, it's hard to imagine a more complex orchestral experience.
For more information on tonight's concert visit www.coloradosymphony.org or call their box office at (303) 623-7876