This was a day of unusually heightened emotions at the Brevard Music Center. Under the direction of Asheville Symphony Orchestra Conductor Daniel Meyer, who made his second appearance here within three days, today’s program was influenced by the lives of two individuals who were cited this year by the Center for their achievements. Christopher Martin, trumpet, winner of the 2008 Distinguished Alumni Award, was the featured soloist in Alexander Arutiunian’s Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra in A-flat minor. At intermission, Bill Boggs, Jr., a career BMC staff member, was honored posthumously with the 2008 Distinguished Service Award. Afterward, Saint-Saëns’s Symphony No. 3 (“Organ Symphony”) was performed in celebration of his love of the instrument, providing a magnificent end to this celebration of both trumpet artistry and one man’s selfless dedication to service.
Opening the concert was Bernstein’s Symphonic Suite from On the Waterfront. Bernstein was so intrigued by film director Elia Kazan’s gritty film starring Marlon Brando as the hapless longshoreman Terry Malloy that he created his only film score, only later to adapt the music into a suite, thus ensuring its independent life from the film. The work was premiered at Tanglewood in 1955 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Bernstein’s musical techniques in underscoring the film’s action foreshadow those in West Side Story (1957) — the skillful manipulation of orchestral colors, the percussive edginess, the highly crafted and urbane writing, the inclusion of blues and jazz elements. Kudos to principals Robert Rydel (horn), Renee Krimler (flute), and Joe Lulloff (sax) for their beautiful solos. One also can’t help but be deeply impressed by Meyer’s conducting — clear and unobtrusive, with exquisite attention to detail.
A student at BMC in 1992, Christopher Martin has quickly risen through the ranks of the orchestral world to now hold the prestigious Adolph Herseth Principal Trumpet Chair of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. A string of other orchestral affiliations (Atlanta Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Seattle Symphony), music professorships (Emory University, Temple University) and festival appearances make him one of the youngest BMC students to have accomplished so much so fast. The Arutiunian trumpet concerto, written as a single movement in 1950, was a favorite piece of Russian trumpeter Timofei Dokshizer who made the piece widely known and who wrote the cadenza.
The trumpet enters after the opening chord with its declamatory statement and plays right to the end of the work, the cadenza having been positioned at the very end. Midway a slow section, initiated by the clarinet, is played muted (con sordina); the last section begins with a brief fugato in the low strings before the trumpet returns to the opening theme. Martin played using a score and seemed a little uncomfortable from the heat. However, his playing was simply marvelous — his seemingly effortless, flawless technique and beautifully rounded tone were a joy to hear. Maestro Meyer mostly conducted with Martin to his back and side, his sonic radar requiring only an occasional glance at Martin for cues.
Saint-Saëns’s Symphony No. 3 (“Organ Symphony”), composed in 1886 and premiered in London with the composer as conductor, was actually his fifth, as two symphonies written earlier weren’t numbered. Charles Gounod was said to have exclaimed with sarcasm as Saint-Saens approached the podium to conduct, “There’s the Beethoven of France,” meaning that the work looked backward instead of forward to the contemporary models of Liszt and others. Indeed, the composer himself must have felt he’d reached his limit in this genre, and thereafter turned his efforts to other instrumental works, including operas, ballets, and incidental music to accompany plays. However, the symphony is dedicated to Franz Liszt, and, like Liszt’s tone poem Hunnenschlacht, uses organ, not as a solo instrument, but as an additional presence.
Two large movements consist of linked pairs: Adagio/allegro connect to a poco adagio. The scherzo transitions to the final movement (introduction, then fugal allegro). In this enormously popular and cyclic work that literally pulls out all the stops, one can hear so many influences, both “forward and backward” — like Beethoven’s Fifth, it’s in C minor, with no break between third and fourth movements. The finales also begin with massive C major harmonies (here on the organ), and both works are cyclic, with motives heard and reheard, and themes transformed throughout. Beethoven would have appreciated, I think, the work’s rhythmic restlessness, which occasionally settles down, only to become unsettled again. Then, there are broad themes that become transformed over the life of the piece as Liszt would do. Some of the fast licks in the wind section were redolent of Mendelssohn’s elfin scherzi (well done, winds!). Also, there was an incessant 2-sixteenth-eighth-note motive that recalled in my mind the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40. The organ was an Allen Q345 brought in from Spartanburg for the performance. When it made its first entrance, softly in the slow section (played by Deloise Lima), I was a little put off by its electronic sound. By the finale, however, with the organ at full blast it didn’t matter so much, and provided with the magnificent orchestra the thrill of sound unleashed to reach the heavens.