Through the course of Saturday night's Winston-Salem Symphony concert, it seemed as though more and more musicians were added to the ensemble for the final blast of the evening. At the center was Alternative Energy (2012), written by American Mason Bates (b. 1977) for electronica and large orchestra.
The performance of his work was proceeded by a recorded Skype call that music director Robert Moody had with Bates. The conversation between the two added some information about how they had met and a bit about the history of the composition, which was first performed by the Chicago Symphony under Riccardo Muti.
The composer describes the work as an "energy symphony," and each of the four movements carries a title along with a parenthetical phrase that helps the listener understand the setting. The entire work is unified by a theme the composer names, as did Berlioz in his Symphonie fantastique, the idée fixe.
The idée fixe first appears as a fiddle tune in the opening movement, "Ford's Farm, 1896 (an amateur fiddler who invents a car)." A dreamy, mysterious opening gives way to a more rhythmic section. The movement concludes with "junkyard percussion," which connects very nicely with "a figure like Henry Ford" assembling the first automobile.
Charles Dimmick served as guest artist and concertmaster for the second half of the evening; it was he who played the aforementioned fiddle tune. Dimmick is concertmaster of the Portland (ME) Symphony and the Rhode Island Philharmonic; WSS music director Moody is also music director of the Portland ensemble.
The first movement connects directly to "Chicago, 2012 (including the FermiLab particle accelerator)." This is a lumbering movement that effectively incorporates actual recordings of the particle collider housed in the FermiLab. Much of the movement is appropriately bright and machine-like in sound. A short pause followed.
"Xinjiang Province, 2112 (twilight on an industrial wasteland)" begins with creepy, eerie music that sets the ominous tone for the scene. The Province is "where a great deal of the Chinese energy industry is based." Snatches of ascending pentatonic scales bring a bit of exoticism to the mix, combined with "techno energy," which results in a cataclysmic conclusion and the final chord leads directly into the finale.
"Reykjavik, 2222 (an Icelandic Rain Forest)" presents a post-apocalyptic scene as humanity strives towards a simpler lifestyle. Recorded birdsongs fill the air, and the fiddling tune is once again heard, purposely out of tune.
The orchestra's playing of this interesting work was first-rate. The effective electronics added a great deal as did the running commentary projected above the orchestra. An amazing array of sounds emanated from the large percussion section. Throughout, Maestro Moody kept both the live and recorded sounds together and managed the large orchestra with energy.
Talk about energy! More musicians came to the stage, including a couple of saxophone players, for a brilliant performance of "Boléro" (1928) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). His most popular work may also be the simplest in construction: over a relentless rhythm first presented by the snare drum at the outset, a continual crescendo takes place as more and more instruments are added. A dazzling conclusion to a great evening of music. Special kudos were given to the indefatigable Wiley A. Sykes, III on snare and fellow percussionists Tony Artimis and Isaac Pyatt.
The evening opened with Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56 in 1873 by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). Although born and raised in Hamburg, Germany, Brahms lived most of his adult life in Vienna. He wrote the Variations three years before his first symphony while vacationing in nearby Bavaria.
This is a tour-de-force for the orchestra and puts all sections of the ensemble on display. The tempos of the movements were displayed on the screen, which helped keep the audience informed as to where we were in the music. The orchestra played the colorful work with confidence and clarity.
To counter the hearty Brahms, a bit of French music. Poème, Op. 25 (1896) was written by Parisian Amédée-Ernest Chausson (1855-1899); it is a romantic gem, a mini violin concerto. The soloist was Dimmick.
The work is a multi-sectional piece with varying moods; much of it is introspective. Dimmick's playing was sensitive, intimate and personal. To be sure, the work also contains some reserved drama, and Dimmick was equally at home with the passion.
--- Edited 11/7/17