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Beethoven, Mahler, Penelope, and The Beatles

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Playing a bit of catch-up here, on the eclectic mix of KW Symphony concerts we’ve seen this fall and winter…

It began in September with the season opener. The first half were two fairly fabulous modern classical pieces, both by local composers, Stewart Goodyear’s Count Up and John Estacio’s Brio: Toccata and Fantasy for Orchestra. The second half was somewhat more familiar: Beethoven’s Symphony in D minor: The Ode to Joy. It’s a bit funny in that it features a mass choir (four choirs, combined) and four soloists, but for most of the performance time, they are just sitting there. They only start singing in the later movements.

But what a gorgeous piece that is. I’m always worried I’ll get a bit bored during the slow bits of classical pieces, but that didn’t happen here. Too beautiful, too moving. Then afterward, we attended the opening gala, which offered a live band (not classical), dancing, hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and an auction. It was a fun evening.

In October, we saw Penelope, by Sarah Kirland Snider (who was in attendance), which was part of the Intersections series. It was a “song cycle”, in which a woman’s husband returns from the war after many years, not remembering his previous life. The performance is his wife’s reaction to this and attempts to restore his memory, partly through reading Homer’s Odyssey to him.

Haunting is probably the best descriptor of this one. It wasn’t quite like anything I’ve heard before. It was written for and performed by Shara Worden, who has a gorgeous but unusual, almost unearthly, quality to her voice. Think I’d like to get the recording, though it would be the kind of thing you’d want to just listen to and through on its own, and not on shuffle mode with other things.

(I found this video while researching this, and really got drawn into watching it all, though it’s seven minutes long…) After the song cycle, Shara Worden performed some of her own songs, which were quirky and somewhat lighter, even featuring audience participation.

Then earlier this month, Edwin Outwater presented the work he’d listened to a lot as a (clearly very unusual) teenager, Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No 5. The piece is over an hour long and requires more musicians than KW Symphony has, so they were joined by about 40 additional musicians. In the first half, after with Schubert’s brief Entr’acte No. 3 from Rosamunde, Outwater explained what was going on the various parts of the Mahler symphony, with excerpts, then in the second half, they played it all. Though I’d had kind of a day at work, I couldn’t help but be drawn in by the gorgeous music rather than brooding on that.

He’s right that it’s an amazing work. Still can’t imagine myself having listened to it as a teenager, though.

Revolver cover artFinally, the first Jeans’n’Classics concert led off this month with something I did listen to as a teenager: The Beatles: Rubber Soul and Revolver. Jean calls me a snob for this, but I still protest that following the old US releases of these albums rather than the more definitive UK / CD versions was a weird Boomer thing to do, particularly as it meant the omission of songs like “Love You to” (my favorite of the three Harrison songs on Revolver) and “And Your Bird Can Sing”. And the even more brilliant songs “Drive My Car” and “Nowhere Man” are only recent additions, tacked on at the end of Rubber Soul’s odd US play order.

But then again… Maybe has does have a point that it’s just a quibble, because it was a really good concert. The Beatles music is very suited to the symphonic treatment, and Peter Brennan clearly loves them and does cool, original things with the arrangements, such as intermixing “Within You Without You” (from Sgt. Pepper) into Octopus’s Garden.

The two lead singers, David Blamires and Neil Donnell, both have exquisite voices, and their weaker stage presence was made up for by having personable keyboardist John Regan lead us through the set. We also got Don Paulton on keyboards, in a rare double-shot on the ivories. And one has to mention that apart from singing well, as always, Kathryn Rose looked particularly fetching. She seems to be one of those women who just get more attractive as they get older.

The set list, of course, featured three of my all-time favorite Beatles songs, “Norwegian Wood” (which led to a night-long debate as to just what John Lennon was setting fire to there), “In My Life”, “Girl” (so sensual), and “For No One” (a most devastating breakup song). But those two albums are just strong in general, so there wasn’t much dross. The very odd “Tomorrow Never Knows” was suitably trippy ending to the evening.

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