The Tacoma Symphony might be launching into a creative and unusual season this year including video game music, new compositions and a double bass concerto (watch the GO cover in November for the story) but for the season opener this Saturday at the Pantages it’s straight-down-the-line Gershwin and Debussy, featuring bodybuilding pianist Leon Bates as soloist and taking its theme from the ocean.
Bates will play in the Gershwin half of the program, playing the jazz composer’s Concerto in F after the orchestra opens with the Cuban Overture. Known both for fiery, energetic performances and his two-hour-a-day dedication to bodybuilding (the two might just be related), Bates is one of the soloists TSO director Harvey Felder wanted to invite back to perform during his last two years at the orchestra’s helm.
“Leon played with us seven or eight years ago,” says Felder. “He’s a gracious, kind gentleman and a superb musician. During my last two years I’m inviting guest artists I’ve worked with who are both gracious and excellent players. He was first on the list.”
And he’s first on the 2012/13 season also, which features some unusual works including new compositions that have only been played once: “second listens,” says Felder, and another item on his bucket list to do before he leaves in 2014.
“Green Flash” by young American composer Roger Zare is the first of these. Premiered in 2007, the work was inspired by a meteorological phenomenon that happens occasionally at sunset over calm water – a flash of green light just after the sun goes down.
“I saw this happen in Florida once,” says Felder, who heard Zare’s piece at a competition he was judging. “A lot of people were gathered on the beach to see the green flash. It’s very subtle; it appears and then it’s gone. The whole arc of the music reflects that – it’s very impressionistic, like Debussy…It’s very atmospheric.”
Which would be why Felder has programmed Debussy’s “La Mer” as the main work Saturday night. The Impressionistic tone poem that depicts the swells and waves of the ocean was groundbreaking when it was written in 1905 – a piece of music that purely described rather than developed a theme in a structured way.
Together, says Felder, the two pieces make “a nice homage to the ocean.”