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SYMPHONY REVIEW
Marin Symphony / Saturday, January 25, 2020
Alasdair Neale, conductor
Jeremy Constant, violin
Jenny Douglass, viola

J. Constant and J. Douglass with Conductor A. Neale Jan. 25 in Marin (Photo: Stuart Lirette)

MOZART MASTERWORK HIGHLIGHTS MARIN SYMPHONY CONCERT

by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, January 25, 2020

Excitement was palpable in the Marin Civic Center Auditorium Jan. 25 as the Marin Symphony in splendid full force took the stage for a richly textured Masterworks II program. Prevented from giving its first Masterworks offering by the wildfire-caused blackouts last October, the orchestra returned with great energy.

Missy Mazzoli’s “These Worlds in Us,” written 2006, a shining nine-minute tone poem scored for full orchestra plus two melodicas (related to the harmonica and accordion), opened the program. Dedicated to her father, who served in (and survived) the Vietnam War, its title is taken from a James Tate poem about his father, a pilot who died in World War II. Given that sadness, the piece might have been unrelentingly somber, but instead is thrillingly alive. Its haunting main theme by the violins, in a pentatonic scale of falling thirds and fourths, is reiterated throughout the piece, interspersed with militaristic references from the snare drum and horns, and bell-like, meditative monotones from the vibraphone evoking the bells and chimes of the gamelan music of Southeast Asia.

Marin Symphony has frequently introduced less-known composers to its audiences. Overall, “These Worlds in Us” synthesizes Asia, Europe and America into a lush, impressionistic soundscape that is both fresh and easily absorbed. Ms. Mazzoli wields a palette of bright orchestral colors, with standard instruments augmented by the melodicas, and extensive use of the vibraphone. The response from the audience in the nearly full hall was warm.

After reducing the orchestra to chamber size, Alasdair Neale conducted Mozart’s E-flat Major Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364, for violin, viola and ensemble, with soloists Concertmaster Jeremy Constant and Principal Violist Jenny Douglass. Mozart’s love of opera and vocal duets is wholly evident here. The violin and viola mirror one another again and again. Mr. Constant and Ms. Douglass are superior musicians and longtime colleagues. Their instruments sang together gloriously, and although sometimes the viola’s quieter sound was covered by the orchestra, long duet cadenzas allowed them to be equally heard. After the effervescent first movement (Allegro maestoso), the sublime Andante held intimations of loss, and in one extended section, as the ensemble played a muted ostinato, the violin and viola engaged in an intimate conversation, poignant in every bar. The Presto third movement restored the mood to joyful. The two soloists’ lines chased after one another, echoing short and light phrases, and then playing in unison as the orchestra guided them to the finish line.

Bows were taken, flowers were presented, and the first half ended with a loud ovation for the sterling performances.

Before playing the final featured work, Mr. Neale spoke to the audience about the recent death of the orchestra’s angel, Gloria Miner. He explained that in a critical period Ms. Miner had made a financial gift “of such magnitude and enormity that it guaranteed our survival.” In her honor, the orchestra’s principal cellist Madeleine Tucker came onstage to play the exquisite “Meditation” from Massenet’s opera Thaïs. Ms. Tucker played with tender expressiveness, her cello’s melodic line soaring above harpist Dan Levitan’s shimmering arpeggios.

The program culminated with Brahms’ Symphony in F Major, Op. 90, completed in 1883. The symphony, his third of four, was a great success from the beginning, so much so that Brahms is said to have tired of hearing it praised as his masterwork. Mr. Neale and the orchestra gave a performance of a deep conviction, never faltering through its demanding quick changes of mood, tempi and dynamics. The first movement, Allegro con brio, began at full throttle, eventually softening into a flowing pastoral section. There were sections of restraint and several climaxes in this movement, which changed like the sea and the wind, all handled deftly by the orchestra.

The lilting Andante second movement evoked water, a cascading stream moving through a serene and shaded wood, while movement three (Poco allegretto) shifted moods from lush harmony into wistfulness, the various instruments seeming to ask the question “why?” (warum? in German), as if the composer was asking in the music why he should deserve a happy life. Here there was pain and self-introspection, but a chorale-like section provided the answer: there is no choice but to live as though one deserved a happy life. The fourth movement, Allegro - Un poco sostenuto, was played alternately as mysterious and anguished, the violins slashing in broken rhythms, then resolving again into introspection and a quiet and contemplative finish.

The audience waited until Mr. Neale lowered his baton before rising in a standing ovation and seemed not to want to end the evening, which prompted an encore: Dvořák’s explosive and exuberant Slavonic Dance No. 8, a rousing finish to an extraordinary evening of music.