Madison Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Naha Greenholtz.
A decidedly, and not always happily, mixed bag was opened Friday night at Overture Center, in the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s first program of the 2016-17 concert season.
Two short works constitute the first half. The youthful Georges Enescu (1881-1955) scored hits with a pair of “nationalist” works, two Romanian rhapsodies, evoking dance melodies and rhythms of his native country. He went on to become a prolific composer of “serious” music, as well as one of the leading violinists and mentors of his time. The first of the two rhapsodies was played, which follows in the traditions of folk-dance compositions by Liszt, Brahms and Dvorak. Maestro John DeMain whips up quite a party with it.
Dispensing with a guest soloist in the season’s opener, one comes from the ranks: concertmaster Naha Greenholtz. She plays the “Chaconne,” a spinoff from John Corigliano’s film score for The Red Violin. It has a virtuosically fluffy solo part in a mismanaged recreation of the Baroque variations form of the chaconne. Greenholtz is certainly effective in her florid role.
The program’s second half ostensibly offers one of the greatest orchestral scores of the twentieth century, the suite The Planets, by Gustav Holst (1874-1934). Unfortunately, it is played against an HD video representative of current culture requirements of pictures with everything.
The video is a compilation of NASA photographs. Many of these are remarkably impressive, and would be fascinating if accompanied by a lecturer who identified what is being seen. The trouble is, the video has nothing — absolutely nothing whatsoever — to do with Holst’s music.
The video deals with the planets as astronomical objects. Holst’s suite reflects the composer’s fascination with mythology, mysticism and Eastern thought. He thus portrayed the planets in astrological terms, grounded in ideas about how they, in their interactions with each other and us, have varied influences on us. The seven movements are musical contemplations of war, peace, fleetness, jolly fun, aging and death, trickery and infinity. Not an orbital rock in sight!
How many attendees to this program, I wonder, especially those hearing the Holst score for the first time, really paid much attention to its extraordinary music and its messages against the distraction of the totally irrelevant video, which actually reduces the work (superbly realized in color and moods by the MSO) to background music for the film? This combination misinforms the audience and is a slap in the face of Holst and his intentions.
I hope the MSO can avoid more of this in the future. The concert will be repeated Saturday, Sept. 24 (8 pm) and Sunday, Sept. 25 (2:30 pm) in Overture Hall.