BWW Review: Chords of Romance Echo With Vigor And Style In SEDUCTION AND THE HAND OF FATE
Could two composers be as different in style and content as John Adams and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and yet be bound as kindred spirits by the common thread of romance. In selecting two distinctive compositions for his public introduction as the new Director of Orchestras at Arizona State University's School of Music, Jeffery Meyer has revealed again not only the depth of his musical acumen and leadership but also the chords that span and unite nearly a century of composition ~ from robust romanticism to minimalism. There's a subtle connection too between the themes of seduction and fate that inhabits these cleverly selected works and invites further contemplation.
In SEDUCTION AND THE HAND OF FATE, the opening volley of the ASU Concerts Series at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, Dr. Meyer led the spirited and proficient members of the ASU Symphony Orchestra in energetic and authoritative performances of Adams's The Chairman Dances and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5.
Drawing from the current history and legends of Communist China, Adams was writing his iconic opera Nixon in China in 1985 when he felt compelled to deviate into what amounts to a brilliant out-take, The Chairman Dances: Foxtrot for Orchestra. In his prefatory notes to the 12-minute piece, Adams explained, "I started somewhat hazily working on the music, not knowing if it had the right tone, and pretty soon I realized it wouldn't work at all for the opera - it was a parody of what I imagined Chinese movie music of the '30s sounded like....[a] vast fantasy of a slightly ridiculous but irresistible image of a youthful Mao Tse Tung dancing the foxtrot with his mistress Chiang Ch'ing, former movie queen and the future Madame Mao, the mind and spirit behind the Cultural Revolution and the strident, unrehabilitated member of the Gang of Four."
The Orchestra was exemplary in conveying the colors and evocative moods of the seduction. As the strings and winds glide from one mood to another and amplify Adams's core motif, we can imagine the scenario depicted in its Milwaukee Symphony premiere by Peter Sellars and Alice Goodman ~ Madame Mao gate-crashing the Presidential Banquet, hanging mood-altering lanterns around the hall, stripping down to a body-hugging cheongsam, and beckoning Mao to join her on the dance floor. It is the beauty of Adams's minimalism, manifest in the Foxtrot, that a simple idea can be the foundation on which to construct such imaginable layers of complexity.
It's melodic, it's jazzy, it's romantic, and yes, it's seductive. And kudos to the Orchestra for delivering it with such power, subtlety, and fidelity.
Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.5 (1888) received an equally powerful and moving treatment. Clearly, as the somber and mellifluous tones of the flutes and strings establish the Fate motif, one knows for sure that Dr. Meyer carries the Russian soul in his heart. Given that, among other roles, he has served his time in Russia as the Artistic Director of the St. Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic, it may not be surprising that his command of the 5th was flawless and inspired. But, it was indeed. The Orchestra was his loyal partner in evoking the shifts between the reverential and solemn tones of the andante movements, the uplifting waltz, and the triumphant finale. Throughout the performance, one could feel the composer's passion and mood swings in the soul of the music.
And one could feel, without equivocation, that Dr. Meyer and the ASU Orchestra ended their performance triumphant.
Photo credit to Scottsdale Center for the Arts