Twentieth-century music, long the bogey of classical music's mostly conservative fans, seems finally to be coming into its own, at least if last night's near sell-out audience at the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle is any indication. Toledo Symphony featured music dating from 1916 to 1991. Chelsea Tipton II conducted.
Admittedly, this was not a concert of the century's thornier works - closer to a pops concert really - but the adventurousness in sound color was much like that found in the more formidable programs.
Things opened with Ottorino Respighi's sensuous tone poem "Fountains of Rome," which begins with the fluttering stillness of the predawn, then offers up a tour of Rome's aquatic sites.
It's lovely and exuberant music, a dreamy summer Rome without the crowds and heat. Musical ideas are bigger than life, a series of events really. But those events require careful detailing: a quickened vibrato here, an explosive attack or melodic punctuation there. Too much of this, of course, and things sound mannered; too little and the spectrum is reduced to shades of gray.
Often last night, the music seemed caught in the shadows. Part of the blame sits with the Peristyle's arid acoustics, but the textures also needed polishing.
Gifted principal clarinetist Georg Klaas has gradually assumed a greater musical presence in the five seasons that he has been with the orchestra. Featured last night in Copland's 1948 Clarinet Concerto, Klaas demonstrated the ways in which his music making is simultaneously gentle and commanding. I suspect the performance will prove one of the season's highlights.
The piece is in two parts, the first of which is an introspective ode to the expansiveness of the American landscape. Here Klaas explored the textures with meditative breadth.
A clarinet cadenza opens the extroverted second section in which jazzy riffs replace grassy plains. Perhaps this is Copland's notion of American society coming of age. Perhaps it was just the composer being careful to satisfy the tastes of his commissioner, jazz great Benny Goodman. At any rate, the music swings and so did Klaas, but in an inward fashion far removed from Goodman's muscularity.
The program closed with a rousing performance of Ravel's "Bolero." Tipton perhaps gave the musicians too much freedom for their solos, which ranged in style from austere to jazzy to goofy, but the approach assured listener attention.
The concert is repeated at 8 tonight in the Peristyle. A limited amount of tickets may be available at the door.
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