Last weekend’s Classic No. 2 Concert by Tucson Symphony Orchestra was special in several ways. It showcased the local premiere of Michael Torke’s “Sky Concerto” and brought visiting conductor Perry So to the Tucson stage. Both were highlights of the 2019-2020 classical music scene.
The concerto is a result of a joint commission by 11 regional orchestras and had its first hearing in Albany, NY. Locally, it brought the composer and his collaborative violin soloist Tessa Lark to Southern Arizona. Both were warmly and enthusiastically welcomed by their audiences.
No tyro to musical composition, Torke has benefited from commissions by the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony. He found simpatico with Tessa Lark and wrote “Sky Concerto” with and for her. The piece is an interesting amalgam of Bluegrass and Irish Reels, a tour de force for Lark with her native Kentucky background and classical education at the New England Conservatory and the Julliard School.
The concerto is a veritable “killer” for the violinist with such a flurry of notes taken at such a dizzying tempo that she is still using the score after several performances. In fact, one wonders if the human brain is even capable of committing such a work to memory. Call up Spotify on your computer and listen to the work. See what you think.
The second half of the concert went to Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique.” It’s a big work, and visiting conductor Perry So’s crisp, physical, energetic style of conducting was well-used and responded to by the musicians. So, a native of Hong Kong and only 37 years old, he clearly has a bright future on the podium.
Berlioz was an innovator, deviating from the traditional French path to composition somewhat later than many. He never darkened the door of the conservatory until age 23, which brought suspicions to his career by the “establishment,” and a lack of approbation. As the old Dutch proverb puts it, “The tulip that grows the tallest gets cut down.” But the sheer power of Berlioz’s music has lasted and given him a long-admired reputation and legacy.
The concert opened with Ravel’s “Menuet Antique,” his first published work, but as a solo piano piece. It was not until near the end of his career that he revisited it to orchestrate it for full orchestra.
A master orchestrator, Ravel immeasurably improved the work and, while short, it makes an impact through the orchestration genius. Ravel wisely muted the brasses for his French Impressionistic sound. Sadly, there are no mutes for tympani, something that could have been useful at several places in the concert.
Classic Concert #3 is scheduled for Nov. 15 and 17 at Tucson Convention Center’s Music Hall. It will feature Sharon Isbin, Guitar with Corigliano’s “Troubadours” (variations for Guitar and Orchestra) plus the Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde and “Symphonic Dances” by Rachmaninoff. Case Scaglione will conduct. Information and tickets at 520-882-8585 and www.tucsonsymphony.org.
Dr. Donald J. Behnke can be reached at Dbank371@gmail.com