By R.M. Campbell
The Seattle Symphony premiered another work, this time by Aaron Jay Kernis, in the Gund/Simonyi set of commissioned works to celebrate the final year of Gerard Schwarz’s directorship of the orchestra, Thursday night at Benaroya Hall.
Unlike some of its predecessors in the series, Kernis’ “On Wings of Light” is bombastic, urgent, bright. It is over seemingly moments after it starts. If ever a piece was a curtaion-raiser, this is one. Kernis writes in the program that the piece was inspired by words of the 18th-century philospher and scientist Johann Heinrich Lambert: “I take on wings of light and soar through all spaces of the heavens. I never come far enough and the desire always grows in me to go farther.” Perhaps, but I got little sense of wings of light and soaring through the heavens. Rather the work is more like blasting your way to any destination. There may be little poetry or subtlety, but it was fun to be along for the ride.
Another Kernis work followed, “Air,” from the mid-1990’s. It is lovely piece for solo violin (on Thursday that was Elmar Oliveira) which calls for a long, seamless line and beautiful tone. Those qualities Oliveira has in abundance. Why it was placed between a suite taken from Debussy’s opera “Pelleas et Melisande,” arranged for orchestra by Schwarz, and Ernest Bloch’s “Baal Shem” is a mystery. They are so remarkably similar to one another. The famous opera can get dragged down easily enough and the orchestral suite seemed even more prone to that. The Bloch violin concerto, subitled “Three Pictures of Chassidic Life,” consisted of lengthy phrases, all very pretty, strung out by the soloist. Although the work has minimal interest in itself, the shimnmering tone and smooth-limbed phrases of Oliveria made the whole exercise interesting, even rewarding. He produced in measure after measure pure silk, never an ugly moment. I had forgotten how beautifully he plays.
Dvoak’s Seventh Symphony ended the concert. The performace was worth the wait. This is a magnificent symphony, with all of its Brahms connections. Schwarz led the orchestra in a vivid account, one that was compelling, insightful and consistently imaginative. The musicians played accurately and with equal degrees of muscle and poetry. The winds were noteworty as was timpanist Michael Crusoe.
The only down note of the night was the house. On the orchestra level there was row after empty row at the back of the house.