|Peter Bay and the Austin Symphony Orchestra (ASO) in the Long Center|
for La Péri (1912)
March Op. 21 (1889)
Concerto in D minor Op. 47 (1903)
No. 1 in E minor Op. 39 (1899)
Long Center for
the Performing Arts
|Composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1857)|
This is going to be a big year for Finnish composer Jean Sibelius
; born in 1865, 2015 is the 150th
anniversary of his birth.
Orchestras everywhere will be playing his music and there will surely be a
plethora of new recordings. Conductor Peter Bay and the Austin Symphony Orchestra
are already off and running with a recent concert featuring two of Sibelius’
major works, Symphony No. 1 in E minor, and the Violin Concerto in D minor,
with the brilliant young American violinist Karen Gomyo
could easily have made this an all-Sibelius
concert by opening with Finlandia
the Karelia Suite
or Valse Triste
and the audience would have
been delighted. Instead, he chose to play two short works by Sibelius’
contemporaries. Bay also had the interesting idea of playing them without
pause; in other words, the end of the Fanfare
for La Péri
led straight into the Glazunov
march. Musically, this was
effective not only because the fanfare is scored for brass only and the Glazunov
begins with brass, but also because the Dukas
is only three minutes long and is
apt to sound inconsequential on its own.
The Glazunov, a lovely, understated piece, is rarely heard.
Bay and the Austin Symphony gave it a fine performance.
|Soloist Karen Gomyo|
Karen Gomyo plays the “Aurora, ex-Foulis” Stradivarius (1703)
and the sound produced by this soloist and her instrument was stunning,
especially on the G-string - a big sound analogous to fine wine: robust, with hints
of peach and almond. Gomyo took some time to establish her authority in the
first movement of the concerto. Like its great predecessor, the Tchaikovsky
Violin Concerto, the Sibelius Violin Concerto is written that way; it takes its
time to really get going. During the course of the performance, it became clear
that Gomyo knew what she was doing and had the sound, technique and depth of
expression to give this concerto a very fine performance. Peter Bay and the
Austin Symphony provided ideal accompaniment; however softly Gomyo chose to
play, Bay and the orchestra could play softer and in the big tutti passages
there was ample fire and energy.
Gomyo’s bio in the programme book revealed that she was “deeply
interested in the “Nuevo Tango” of Astor Piazzolla”, so it was not surprising
that she played some unaccompanied Piazzolla
as an encore. A delightful piece, the
audience loved it.
Sibelius composed his First Symphony in 1899. Having
already written the massive Kullervo
for soloists, male chorus and orchestra, and the Four Legends
- both works based on
episodes from the Finnish epic poem the Kalevala
– he was, by age 34, a very experienced composer.
During his formative years, Sibelius travelled to Europe
to further his studies. He spent some time with Busoni
in Leipzig in 1890. The
following year he spent even more time in Vienna. He had a letter of
introduction to Brahms but the Great Man, well-known for his crankiness,
refused to see him. Sibelius studied instead with Robert Fuchs
and Karl Goldmark.
By 1897 Sibelius was well established as a promising composer
in his native Finland; in fact, he was so highly regarded that he was awarded
an annual pension by the Finnish government. Sibelius received this income for
the rest of his life. Together with increasing royalties from performances of
his music, Sibelius was able to devote himself solely to composition without having
to worry about how he would pay for his next meal.
One of the first fruits of this financial independence
was the Symphony No. 1. Unlike the Kullervo Symphony,
the work is pure
music. It tells no story nor does it attempt to depict any events. It is all
about the presentation and transformation of musical ideas. This is an
important point when discussing the music of young composers. One must try to
imagine how hard it was for Sibelius to do away with the crutch of program notes
that would explain what the music was all about and give it a structure. Most
of his early works had been in this programmatic style; now he was attempting
to write a major piece in which the music speaks for itself.
|Maestro Peter Bay|
The Symphony No. 1
not only speaks for itself; it speaks in an original voice. There are
occasional distant echoes of Borodin
, but for the most part
listeners in 1899 were hearing something new. Its opening bars, with a darkly
beautiful clarinet solo over a soft timpani roll, are unprecedented in the
history of music. Throughout the piece one hears melodies, textures and rhythms
that are highly original. All the elements of Sibelius’ mature style as a
symphonist are to be found in this symphony. Each of his later symphonies has a
different and often more concentrated structure, but “the voice” is instantly
recognizable as being that of Sibelius.
Peter Bay gave us a well-prepared and heartfelt
interpretation of the Symphony No. 1.
There are no metronome markings in the symphony, so the conductor has to work
out the tempi for himself Bay’s tempi for each of the four movements seemed
just right. Balances were excellent with brass and percussion given their head
in all the right places. Well, nearly all the right places. It seemed to me
that the final climax was a little underpowered. My guess is that Bay was
holding back the brass and timpani so as not to cover the strings. To my mind,
however, the power of this last climax is more important than the secondary
parts being played by the strings.
On the whole, this was a worthy tribute to Sibelius.
Perhaps there will be more to come from Bay and the Austin Symphony later in