Passionate Brahms, nimble Beethoven, a few surprises and plenty of charm from conductor Paul Haas at the Tacoma Symphony concert
It’s good to be surprised at a symphony concert. Too often we’re given the same old pieces delivered in the same old way – but not Saturday night at the Pantages Theater. Following conductor Paul Haas – the second candidate for the Tacoma Symphony’s musical director position – the orchestra pulled out surprise after surprise, from an unprogrammed piece to lushly unified strings in Brahms’ fourth symphony to Haas’ own debonair, rock band-style introductions.
“I like surprises,” said Haas, by way of introduction as the concert began, after laying on the flattery about Tacoma’s beautiful scenery and people – and then proceeded to show us just what he meant. Instead of the first piece on the program (“Strange Attractors,” by Tacoma native Alexandra Bryant) the audience was instead surrounded by a vaguely medieval, vaguely Vaughan Williams-esque soundscape, with woodwinds calling like birds from the stage, the balcony and the back of the audience. It was a piece by Haas himself, who’s a respected composer and also known for unconventional symphonic programming both in New York, where he’s the founding director of Sympho, and Northwest Arkansas, his other directorship position. The blurring and bending of Monteverdi fragments into a dreamlike whole was, in fact, a smart move: It showed off Haas’ composing chops plus his penchant for focusing on the “energy” of a program, and it also gave a soft, approachable opening to Bryant’s rather more awkward, aloof imagination.
“Strange Attractors” was actually premiered in Tacoma in 2010 by the youth symphony. The playing Saturday night was far more skillful, but the piece still sounds like a newly-fledged compositional grad student testing her wings. The wildness of the fluttery, opening motif soon launched into a Stravinsky-like pizzicato, with ominous Bartok brass. And while the unusually-colored wind solos were subtle and strong, the tuttis lacked good orchestration and sounded, despite the players’ efforts, weak.
Then came Stephanie Leon Shames for Beethoven’s symphony-like Third Piano Concerto. Shames does a lot of collaborative and chamber work, and it shows in her highly sensitive interpretations that fit perfectly in this piece where the orchestra is a whole lot more than just the back-up band. Read more »