A symphony program that begins with 12-tone music is already an unusual one, no matter what follows. However, if Alban Berg (1885-1935) is the composer, at least half the battle for some audience resonance is won. Back on the podium again after a month's absence, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra music director Mario Venzago offered a program devoid of classical favorites or "warhorses," as they've come to be known. Berg's Three Excerpts from his opera Wozzeck
featured soprano Twyla Robinson, whose star has risen since she won the final MacAllister Awards vocal competition here in 2003. Throughout the program Robinson delivered rich, well controlled vocalism. From Berg's dour but remarkably accessible serial music, the transition to Haydn and his very short mass: Kleine Orgelmesse: Missa brevis sancti Johannis de deo
-- its title nearly as long as the work itself -- was surprisingly smooth, aided by Robinson's effortless transition from the Second to the First Viennese School. Joining her and the orchestra was the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir. After the break came Vaughan-Williams' Toward the Unknown Region
, again featuring orchestra and choir. This lovely piece was lovingly played and sung. To round out this unusual but delightful program, Venzago chose Francis Poulenc's Gloria
, the second part of the Catholic Ordinary, with both Robinson and the choir returning. Recalling a very sassy Stravinsky in his neo-Classic period, the Gloria
is quite accessible, all performing parties holding to their high standard from Berg onward.