But love, this love has not ended:
just as it never had a birth, it has
no death: it is long river,
only changing lands, and changing lips.
Simple, powerful words. They close out Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s poem “My love, if I die and you don’t.” As the final statement of Peter Lieberson’s Neruda Songs — a song cycle for mezzo and orchestra — they are a tribute to his wife and testify to the power of love eternal. For this week’s Seattle Symphony concerts, this modern song cycle was the centerpiece of a love themed program.
Kelley O’Connor, an American mezzo from California, has been singing Lieberson’s Neruda Songs since Lorraine Hunt Lieberson passed away from cancer shortly after the songs were premiered in LA. O’Connor picked up the piece first with a performance in Chicago under Bernard Haitink. In the years since she has performed the piece with the 13 different orchestras.
O’Connor’s voice, though not as voluptuous as Hunt Lieberson’s, is as emotive, easily expressing the meaning in every word of Neruda’s poems. Her voice penetrated with uncommon feeling. Every phrase escaped her lips with longing buttressed by romantic passion. As she sang about absence, death, and love we could easily imagine O’Connor was singing to someone her deepest, personal feelings. Each stanza grabbed our attention. Every word pierced our hearts.
This stirring accomplishment was made easier by the Seattle Symphony led this weekend by the French conductor Stephane Deneve. Deneve’s name had been mentioned as a possibility for Philadelphia and Seattle. His reputation is as a master of French music — Roussel, Ravel, Berlioz, etc. But this is only one side of Deneve. Early in the night his Roussel impressed with kaleidoscopic colors. He later brought transparency to Lieberson’s orchestration when needed and weight to its many sparse moments. To end the evening his instinctive rhythmic talents instilled selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet with edgy tension.
I anticipated this weekend’s SSO would be one of the year’s best. The program was solid. It introduced Seattle to a piece of music written very recently, reintroduced us to Roussel’s music, while giving stodgy concertgoers something to look forward to with Romeo and Juliet. Deneve is an impressive maestro and the Seattle Symphony is an impressive orchestra with the right maestro and the right repertory. Too many people missed this concert and that is a shame. When everything works together — program, maestro, orchestra — like it did this weekend, memories are made.
Note: I had hoped to get to the UW Symphony, Medieval Women’s Choir, and The Esoterics this weekend. However, a nasty spill left me with a broken foot. My apologies; I promise to be more careful in the future.