Carter in Atlanta

It had been longer than I care to remember since I had heard a top tier orchestra when I went to a performance of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in their home hall last weekend. The draw for me was a performance of Elliott Carter's "Allegro scorevole", the final movement of his Symphonia: Sum Flexae Spetium Spei. The Symphonia, the newest piece on the 101 list, is a monumental triptych that sums up, in the words of David Schiff, the "joys of modernism" for an age that had either never experienced them or had inadequately appreciated them.

The "Allegro scorevole" is, as the title indicates "fast and flowing". It is an excellent example of the composer's simultaneous use of contrasting musical characters to make his arguement. Here, a yearning lyrical idea is presented alongside the scurrying music implied by the title. ASO Music Director Robert Spano introduced the piece with a short talk, illustrated by very well-chosen excerpts played by the orchestra. Mr. Spano discussed the piece in terms of "wind", which is one of Mr. Carter's favorite metaphors regarding his music. He drew a chuckle from the Atlanta audience when he noted that they should be familiar with wind after the city's recent weather.

The performance itself was very good. All sections of the orchestra acquitted themselves well in the difficult, shimmering score--Mr. Spano had said that the piece had become very important to the players. After a powerful climax in the orchestra's lowest register, there is a final, upward flowing "gust" that ends with a soft piccolo solo in sustained notes in the intrument's upper register. Carter's music often invokes me of the rhythms of the sea, and as the last piccolo note faded, I was reminded of the closing lines from Wallace Stevens'
"The Idea of Order at Key West":

Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker's rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.

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