A Journey through Mystery, Delight and Sorrow

By Lapidus, Larry | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), October 27, 2014 | Go to article overview

A Journey through Mystery, Delight and Sorrow


Lapidus, Larry, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


Eckart Preu, music director of the Spokane Symphony, chose to open the third in this season's Classics Series at The Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox with "King Tide" (1999), a work for large orchestra by Sweden's leading contemporary composer, Anders Hillborg (born 1954). As with most of the modern and contemporary works Preu selects, "King Tide" rewards the listeners who arrive with open ears and mind with a refreshing and stimulating experience.

Before hearing the piece, the audience watched a video recording of an interview Preu held with Hillborg via Skype. Preu asked Hillborg about the inspiration for "King Tide." Hillborg answered honestly: "inspiration is for amateurs," he said, and that he has "deadlines to meet." That is, as a professional musician and composer, his income depends on his production of quality and appealing works that an orchestra half way around the world is willing to pay for the right to include one on their program.

"King Tide" is a work without discernible melody or rhythm that employs a symphony orchestra to produce a flickering, shifting field of sound. The sound swells and subsides as various groups of instruments enter the field or fall silent. The dynamic range of the piece is vast, ranging from barely audible to overwhelming, requiring the musicians to observe the narrowest nuances of expression. The effect it produces in the listener can only be compared with the contemplation of vast natural phenomena, such as the ocean or the weather. Like nature, its changes are fascinating, delightful and mysterious.

The goals that guided Richard Strauss (1864-1949) in the composition of "Death and Transfiguration" (1889), on the other hand, are totally, sometimes tiresomely explicit. In portraying the final minutes of a dying man, the young Strauss assigned a different snippet of melody, or leitmotif, to every thought that passes through the man's mind, leaving us in no doubt of how we are to feel, and when. The young Strauss' brilliant gifts of melody and orchestration catapulted him to international stardom, and have assured his works a place on concert programs ever since, though perhaps not on everyone's list of works of highest artistic merit.

The scrupulous attention to expression and ensemble we heard in the Hillborg piece was applied equally to the Strauss, producing an exquisitely finished performance. Without losing sight of the overall arch of the work, Preu took care to register every detail of Strauss' complex narrative. Concertmaster Mateusz Wolski's voicing of the brief violin solos caught the perfect balance between purity and pathos, while principal flute Bruce Bodden's infallible good taste allowed him to evoke the happy childhood memories of the dying man without ever lapsing into sentimentality. …

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