NO THANKS to the wild weather and downed trees, the Monterey Symphony’s Friday concert at Sherwood Hall in Salinas was cancelled. But Symphony staff rose to the surface—so to speak—and made it possible for many of their Salinas patrons to attend the Carmel performance Saturday night at Sunset Center. A nearly full house included two full rows of middle-school students from Gonzales.
The opportunity to draw parallels between history and contemporary life in our time should always be pounced upon. How better to revive the past in the present? The Monterey Symphony’s current season celebrates Shakespeare in the 400th anniversary of his death, In this case, it was Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, a concert piece inspired by the late Shakespeare tragedy of a fallen hero, one Caius Coriolanus, a Roman general of the 5th century BC who vanquished the hostile Volsci tribe living in the hills southeast of Rome. Then, as a Wikepedia stub summarizes, “Coriolanus becomes active in politics and seeks political leadership. His temperament is unsuited for popular leadership and he is quickly deposed, whereupon he aligns himself to set matters straight according to his own will. The alliances he forges to accomplish his own will result in his ultimate downfall and death.” Why does this description sound like a cautionary tale for our time?
The Coriolan Overture was actually inspired by an 1804 telling of the story by Heinrich Joseph von Collin, which has his hero committing suicide. A stern opening chord progression in C Minor and stormy expansion depicts the hero’s resolve as he prepares to lead the very same Volsci against Rome. A second section, in E-flat, represents his mother’s plea that he give up on such a reckless plan. The two themes argue with one another, then it ends quietly. While the piece isn’t as dramatic and powerful as the Egmont Overture or as pictorial as the Leonora overtures, it still smolders with that force of nature called Beethoven.
Violinist Sergej Krylov, a protégé of the late, great cellist/conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, is currently on a world tour. Bragado-Darman was lucky to have caught him on his way to Shanghai and got a thrilling Sibelius violin concerto out of the deal. Krylov really dug into the piece with force of personality and deep, colorful sonority. This sort of passionate intensity is what everybody wants from a performing artist and it well-deserved the standing ovation it got.
Each of the four Brahms symphonies is unique, though all are unmistakably the work of one man. Following Symphonies 1 and 2, the Third is noticeably more economical and concentrated. (The Fourth would be even more so.) Yet, it is also expansive. The first movement lays out its motifs and rhythms quickly and gets to its second theme group in far fewer measures than its two older brothers. In 6/4 time, F Major and F Minor have a go at one another, and, ever the inventor, Brahms remakes the concept of the classical sonata form. Was that one development section or two? In C Major, the pastoral second movement, andante, “soothes the savage breast.” The melancholy C Minor third movement, in 3/8 and A-B-A, bears one of the composer’s most haunting melodies, to which songwriters of the mid-20th century have, for better or worse, fashioned words. (Yves Montand famously sang a French version in the film Goodbye Again.) The restless finale, in F Minor finally resolving back to the F Major key of the whole piece, made a mighty and exuberant roar, the orchestra freighted by large wind and brass ensembles.
Back in my broadcasting days, I listened to this piece too often. What a treat after a long absence; it allowed me to hear many details for the first time.
This was a tough weekend for both Monterey and Santa Cruz Symphonies which forced many of their common musicians to choose one over the other.