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SYMPHONY REVIEW
Marin Symphony / Saturday, October 15, 2022
Alasdair Neale, conductor. Simone Porter, violin

Simone Porter Oct. 15 at the Marin SO (A. Wasserman Photo)

ORCHESTRAL SPLENDOR IN MARIN SYMPHONY'S SEASON OPENER

by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, October 15, 2022

Jubilant fanfares uncorked and capped Marin Symphony’s October 15 concert, the first Masterworks program of conductor Alasdair Neale’s final season with the orchestra.

The first fanfare, just three minutes long but sonorous and impactful, was Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, Part One, which took its inspiration and instrumentation from Copland’s 1942 Fanfare for the Common Man. The second fanfare was triumphantly woven into the finale of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.

Between fanfares, Mendelssohn’s captivating E Minor Violin Concerto was performed by soloist Simone Porter, her second collaboration with the Marin Symphony. The Mendelssohn holds special meaning for the former child prodigy, as it was Ms. Porter’s debut concerto performance with the Seattle Symphony sixteen years ago when she was ten.

Following a brisk rendition of The Star Spangled Banner, which Mr. Neale conducted facing the standing near-capacity audience, most of the musicians left the stage, leaving a semi-circle of horn players and percussionists. Part One of Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman is dedicated to conductor Marin Alsop. There are five others, composed over 30 years, each dedicated to a different woman the composer admires. There ensued an exhilarating sonic display of fireworks that parallels Copland’s Fanfare, then diverged, with excellent performances by the timpani, bass drum, snare drums, gongs, trumpets, horns, trombone and baritone horn. It evoked the imagery of a contest by Amazons – booming, clashing, shimmering.

The full orchestra then returned for the Concerto. There are only a few first movement beats before the violin line enters with soaring lyricism. Ms. Porter played with assurance, delicacy and handsome tonal colors and gave great expression to the lovely cadenza. She played the tender Andante movement with special grace and warmth, turning toward the end of that movement to play directly to the first violins in a charming ensemble gesture. The third movement was performed with bubbly effervescence. The score’s soloistic ornaments and pizzicato were supported by the sweet-voiced cellos, clarinets and flutes. A standing ovation and three curtain calls greeted the culmination of this most pleasing of concertos.

Tchaikovsky begins his E Minor Symphony from 1888 with a somber tonal sound. The clarinets sing a sorrowful lament, and it’s as if a fog is hovering overall, threatening to settle in permanently. But this symphony is like a quick change artist, and soon pace and mood pick up. After a filigree of flutes, the trumpets and trombones sound emphatically. Art Austin’s solo clarinet sang the haunting main thematic “idée fixe” of the work and the mood shifted to a pastorale before soaring in great agitation. Suddenly the music became expansive, as though a ballroom had opened to the sky.

Mr. Neale, seeming to relish these changing moods, tempos and tonal color, fashioned a panoply of sonority. Eventually the music decreased in power, and the movement ended with a sustained B from bassoonist Karla Ekholm that linked the first to the second movement. The violas and cellos introduced the famous horn solo, performed heartrendingly by Chris Cooper. It sang over a murmur of the strings and was joined by Margot Golding’s oboe in lovely duet. The theme was passed around, rising in exultation, flowing as though to the brink of a cliff then landing softly with the clarinets.

The third movement, a waltz, was full of spins and dips. There were rhythmic jousts, uneven phrases, rushing strings, and chattering flutes – like a party in an ornate room under blazing chandeliers. For moments the golden instrumental voices of the oboes, violins and bassoons were eloquent above the orchestral clamor, but the movement ended with the woodwinds repeating the idée fixe.

The finale brought back rapidly shifting moods, the somber beat of the first movement sounded again, and a translucent chorale emerged. There was rumbling that suggested a rising storm, but soon the tempo slowed and dissonance resolved into a victorious fanfare. Tyler Mack’s timpani led the final suspenseful buildup, and the conclusion of the symphony was nothing less than grandiloquent. The audience responded with great appreciation.

Marin Symphony Concertmaster Jeremy Constant retired this year after serving in the role since 1994. At this performance replacement candidate Ani Bukujian served as concertmaster.