A Review of Morlot Conducts The Fantastique at Benaroya Hall on Saturday, February 15th
In the heart of downtown Seattle, not more than a fifteen minute walk from the Seattle University campus lies Benaroya Hall, is the home of the Seattle Symphony. On Saturday the 15th, the Seattle Symphony presented Morlot Conducts the Fantastique. Ludovic Morlot is the music director of the Symphony and every time that I’ve seen him, he has been excellent.
Saturday’s performance began with the piece “Bourree fantasque” from Emmanuel Chabrier. According to the program, Chabrier was one of the most influential French musicians of the late 19th century. This piece was one of his most famous works and was originally intended to be a piano solo. Chabrier never finished the piece and Felix Mottl transformed it into a symphony piece in 1898. The piece was very short and upbeat. There was a lot of influence from the brass section, including a section during which the trumpets led the violins. The harmonies were well ahead of the baroque era and were thus evidence to the brilliance of the piece.
The second piece performed was Robert Schumann’s “Cello Concerto in A Minor,” performed by Xavier Phillips. I have to admit that I’m really not a huge fan of cello pieces. To me, they always come across as morose, slow, and overly dramatic. I can safely say that was not the case in this performance. This piece was composed despite Schumann battling bipolar disorder in the mid 1800s. The whole piece flows smoothly through the three movements that it has. Where usually movements have a distinctly different feeling from the previous movement, this one pulled all three movements together to achieve a kind of unity in the performance. To add to the beauty of the music, Xavier Phillips played excellently (and used a cello that was over 300 years old!)
The final piece was Symphonie Fantastique. This piece was composed by Hector Berlioz in the 1830s. It tells the story of an artist meeting the woman of his dreams and falling in love with her. When the artist falls into despair about how he can’t be with the woman, he tries to kill himself by overdosing on opium. Instead, he ends up with a narcotic vision where he believes that he has killed the woman and has been condemned to death. The artist sees his own death about to take place with a whirlwind of devils and sorcerers around the guillotine. Then, the artist wakes from his vision to end the piece.
Even if you didn’t know this back story, this symphony would have you engaged from start to finish. It is beautifully high energy – the first three movements are all very excited and upbeat. Even the first half of the fourth movement is startlingly happy for describing a situation in which the artist believes that he has killed the woman of his dreams. But towards the end of the fourth movement, the change in mood from happy to morose is very evident. As we continue into the next piece, the symphony gets to be very loud while still being morose. This is always my favorite part of seeing the symphony. They can convey so many emotions at so many different levels and so many intensities. The piece ends with beautiful excitement as many of the instruments all come together.
As a final note, if you are a university student, I highly recommend the Seattle Symphony. The prices for students are very cheap, and it makes for a great night out on a date, with a friend, or even by yourself.
Bill Koch / Resident Spicy Hamburger Expert / KSUB General Manager
KSUB Gets Classy: Part II to include the fusion, incorporation, and sampling of symphonic and classical music in the hip hop/rap genre. Keep an eye out for that! It will be posted soon!