Tulsa Symphony combines classics with contemporary music

For their fifth Classics concert, the symphony performed Greig, Mozart and Torke.

On Saturday, Feb. 8, the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra performed downtown at the Tulsa PAC. The night was an overflow of joyful, colorful music — each time the symphony played a movement, the audience erupted into applause.

The auditorium was packed with people waiting patiently for the orchestra to play. As they thumbed through their programs, the expressions on their faces lit up to see what pieces were on the schedule. While the auditorium slowly filled up, the musicians individually tuned their instruments one last time. Despite the last minute nerves (as all musicians get), there was a sense of confidence in each instrumentalist. The music being performed was thoughtfully prepared with complete pasion over several hours invested in practice and rehearsal. Nevertheless the performers were excited to collaborate with the conductor and share their gift with Tulsa.

When it came time for the symphony to play, the crowd fell silent in the darkness of the auditorium. The critically acclaimed guest conductor Leslie Dunner looked at the audience with appreciation and walked straight to the podium. Dunner is considered to be one of the most promising conductors of his generation. Throughout his career he has been internationally recognized, being honored on numerous occasions. Dunner’s knowledge of orchestral music showed: the intensity of his left hand cues were hard to miss. He articulated the dynamics with fervor, yet the music progressed beautifully, never seeming to jump clunkily between sections. From start to finish, it was clear that the conductor had a vision of what the score should sound like. Without hesitation, the bright melodies floated lightly through the auditorium and the rich harmonies bounced around and complemented the sounds being produced.

The pieces played were not at all mismatched. Yes, they were from different composers, but there was a running theme: instrumental painting. Each piece told a story and had a variety of colors ranging from bright and joyous to dark and forceful. There was never a dull moment. The first piece the orchestra performed is relatively new by today’s standard. Michael Torke (b. 1961) composed “Javelin” in 1994, but it accompanied compositions from hundreds of years ago beautifully. The piece was commissioned and recognized by the Atlanta Committee back in the 1990s for the strong sense of the American spirit and the images that it invoked.

The orchestra went straight into playing W.A. Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 in E-Flat Major, K 543 after “Javelin.” The movements were continuous; instead of having contrasting styles within the piece, it sounded as if it was one giant movement with its lighthearted leaps. Even though it was continuous, the audience couldn’t help but applaud after all four movements. The symphony was impressive, as the musicians collaborated, never skipping a beat and and flowing through the tempo.

As it progressed, the music became more bombastic and feathery. It was bombastic in the sense that Mozart’s personality could be heard in each movement. It was also feathery because the piece was joyous with brisk movements, titillating back and forth from start to finish.

After intermission, the symphony played Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, op. 16 with critically acclaimed pianist Sean Chen. Chen has won several awards for his understanding of both orchestral and solo piano works. The Grieg piece was no exception, showing off his refinement and talent. Unlike its classical counterpart from before, this Romantic-era piece portrayed intensity and virtuosity with each note and dramatic dynamic contrast. Nevertheless there was a playfulness brought by the orchestra and the pianist: Chen was interacting and with each beat, knowing exactly where to come in, even without Dunner cuing him. There was an understanding between both of them. It was astounding how two very different musicians know how to execute and play the piece perfectly. Throughout the Grieg piece Dunner and Chen smiled at each other, almost as if cuing was a running joke, knowing that they had the entire concerto down and could do it by heart. It was remarkable.

Towards the end of the concert, the audience gave a standing ovation, which ushered in an encore performance of Chen’s arrangement of J.S. Bach third sonata. It was beautiful, capturing the lines and heights of the piece itself. Again the audience ruptured in applause. As the concert came to an end, the audience carried the music with them, eagerly awaiting the next concert that they could appreciate as much as they did with this one when the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra plays “Star Wars” in Concert on Saturday, March 14.

Post Author: Karelia Alexander