Four stars

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra; Hilbert Circle Theatre; June 7

Maestro Mario Venzago conducted a challenging program to illustrate the spectrum of 19th-21st century orchestral music, beginning with a gloriously articulated Overture to Tannhäuser. Wagner’s 1843 opera symbolizes the conflict between the spiritual and the sensual. The overture encapsulates the story, opening with solemnity as clarinets, bassoons and horns emulate the pilgrim’s chant, followed by the strings building a stately religious melody. A crescendo erupts, pitting trombones against violins as we are led into Venusberg, to feel the exaltation of the goddess Venus’ carnal victory over Tannhauser’s love for the mortal Elisabeth, who symbolizes humankind’s spiritual side. The audience responded attentively to the long piece. James Beckel’s new work, Toccata for Orchestra, followed, again showcasing instruments and sections in conflict and conversation with each other. Venzago utilized two works by Johann Strauss Jr. to bring the audience into the process of listening and watching. We clapped and stopped on cue. Mascagni’s “Intermezzo” from the opera Cavalleeria rusticana emotes turbulence with virile loves, hates, jealousies. Closing with Beethoven’s Finale from Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op 92, the sweep of emotions gathers into something akin to a demonic frenzy — a very nice circle back to Wagner. The sum of the Happy Hour concerts shows how composers capture and release human emotions and retell our common — if particular — stories.

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