September 24, 2001
Emotional opener for Seattle Symphony
by Deborah Stone
Opening night for the Seattle Symphony at Benaroya Hall went on despite the absence of scheduled conductor Andreas Delfs (who was unable to get a flight to Seattle in time) and in his place, the orchestra's assistant conductor, Alastair Willis, did a commendable job.
The program opened with "God Bless America," and moved into the very regal and stately "Nimrod" movement from Elgar's "Enigma" Variations, both of which were added in the aftermath of the recent tragedies.
The scheduled opener, selections from Suites 1 & 2 from Bizet's "Carmen," followed, with actor Danny Glover narrating various excerpts from this most famous and beloved opera.
Although Glover cuts an impressive figure and has an eloquent voice, he seemed a bit stiff and unprepared during the reading, stumbling at times over words and keeping only limited eye contact with the audience.
The orchestra, on the other hand, sounded energetic and crystal clear in its performance of this fiery and sensual gypsy music, which brought to mind scenes of exotic Spain.
The program continued with Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story," one of the composer's most well known and memorable works and the ultimate crowd pleaser. It was here that Willis brought the best out of the orchestra, particularly its virtuoso percussion section, which brought to life the edgy rhythms reflecting the tension of rival gangs and the exuberant syncopations of the Puerto Ricans' dances.
Bernstein's music takes audiences on a ride through wild, jazzy melodies and swift and steady rhythms. Copland's "Lincoln Portrait" concluded the evening with a patriotic flair (most appropriate in timing) and a most stirring narration by Glover, at his best. The words of Lincoln resonated against a background of spirited, evocative orchestra music, as he denounced slavery and commemorated the Battle of Gettysburg, each passage seeming to speak directly to the horrors of last week.
As the piece came to a sonorous climax, audiences rose to their feet with thunderous applause, filling Benaroya Hall with overflowing emotion. It was a night to remember and to not lose sight of the powers of music and its ability to bring people together.
For information on Seattle Symphony's upcoming programs for the 2001-2002 season, call (206) 215-4747.