The May 26 death of 93-year-old Swiss pharmaceutical magnate Paul Sacher came at a slightly inopportune time for the Seattle Symphony. Sacher was better known as a conductor and music patron, and as head of the Basle Chamber Orchestra he commissioned a dazzling array of mid-century masterpieces: Bart� Divertimento and Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta; Strauss' Metamorphosen; Stravinsky's Concerto in D; and works by Boulez, Britten, Hindemith, and others, totaling more than 80 in all. Reflecting on his invaluable legacy sets one to thinking about other musical legacies, which leads to the topic of what Benaroya Hall's opening season has bequeathed to music history.
The first of the season's commissions was heard at the official opening last September. David Diamond's A Gala Celebration bustled absorbingly, with all the instruments kept busy, and I greatly admired his ability to keep all those beanbags in the air. Hugh Aitken's Symphony (4/8-11) was a big sloppy mess in the very best way, and I'd like to hear it again to get a better handle on its curiosities. As for Henri Lazarof's In Celebration (12/3-6), well . . . I've been trying to come up with some euphemisms, but to these ears it was an opaque and off-putting disappointment. Not a commission, but a world premiere nevertheless, was Alan Hovhaness' Cello Concerto (3/18-21), written back in 1936 when he was just beginning to explore what later became his familiar flowing, modal style. More winning than any of these, though, was the Orchestral Prelude no. 1, "Resolution," played on the 5/15 Discover Music concert—a handsome, somber work of fin-de-si裬e Viennese flavor by Seattle composer Josh Deutsch, all of 17 years old.
The SSO's latest commission, unveiled last week, was Francis Thorne's Clarinet Concerto. Mellow arching lines and jazzy syncopations passed by, but I struggled mightily to retain any of it. Thorne has a skillful way with color, but he seemed to have more urgent things to say in the moving Elegy for Orchestra that the SSO played in 1997. More than skillful was the excellent solo playing of SSO principal clarinetist Christopher Sereque.
Max Bruch's Violin Concerto in G minor isn't first and foremost a swashbuckler—its true heart is the long central slow movement, as soloist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg realized, framed by a misterioso introduction and a joyously dancing finale. This slow movement was supremely eloquent and thoughtful in her hands; she convinced me in every bar with every carefully considered choice she made.
Schwarz chose Weber's Euryanthe overture to open the show. It was smashing, and I'm counting the days until he tackles Weber again with Seattle Opera's Der Freischtz in August. The concert closed with Respighi's Pines of Rome. Listening to the ejaculatory splashes of the opening and the martial thrusting at the end, it struck me that if one transposed the vowels in Pines, the title would be equally apropos. The SSO's performance, with trumpets in the aisles, was properly excessive.