March toward transcendence

The 2015-16 San Diego Symphony masterwork season begins

Visual take on Romeo at the Grave of Juliet
  • Visual take on Romeo at the Grave of Juliet

Mozart Turkish March (Volodos Turkish March) - Yuja Wang

Ms. Wang played an encore of an arrangement of Mozart’s *Turkish

Ms. Wang played an encore of an arrangement of Mozart’s *Turkish March*.

The overture to Die Fledermaus is usually reserved for New Year's Day but the San Diego Symphony decided to use it on a new season's day. This Viennese war horse, or Lipizzan stallion, as the case may be, is reminiscent of an era when champagne was king and the neo-bourgeois got dizzy on the effervescence as they waltzed their lives away. Those were the days — except for the rampant homelessness, prostitution, humbling military defeats, systemic anti-Semitism, and famine.

This may sound strange, but I love this type of music because of those elements in the Austro-Hungarian culture. While those are unsavory aspects of the culture, they do not define the culture. We can think of our individual selves as the Austro-Hungarian culture in a microcosm.

Each of us has felt homeless or out of place. We all prostitute ourselves in one way or another, usually without the sex part. We all have humbling defeats. We all have systemic anti-something-or-other-ism and while famine isn’t a problem, we do make poor nutritional choices that might kill us someday.

Yet in spite of all the flaws and disgusting aspects of ourselves, we find a way to get dizzy from the effervescence and waltz around sometimes, or maybe we just get drunk in the club. Yes, I think that’s it. The American equivalent is getting drunk at the club.

Maybe that was a stretch but when I hear music by the Strauss family I always hear the social historians and critics, the ones who say the Strausses were a part of Habsburg propaganda.

Yuja Wang was the guest pianist and she sparkled, literally. She walked on stage in a shimmering, chromatic gown which was a godsend for a music review. Now I can draw similarities between the sparkle of her attire to the sparkle of her playing to the sparkle of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9. It makes my job oh-so-much easier and I, for one, am grateful.

Although, I’m not sure sparkle is the right word for this Mozart concerto. It was written when he was 21 and marks the beginning of his mature compositions, but it was still written in Salzburg before Mozart reached his peak in 1780s Vienna.

This is not the type of music we associate with Yuja Wang but maybe it should be. It is a deviation from the athletically emotive music of Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev which [she recorded][1] with Gustavo Dudamel. Mozart has not played a big role in Ms. Wang’s career so far but this performance did not reflect that at all.

The second half of the concert was Prokofiev’s version of Romeo and Juliet. The complete ballet runs about two and half hours. There are 52 numbers in the complete score, and Prokofiev created three different orchestral suites using different selections to create concert versions of the music. For this concert, music director Jahja Ling took pieces from all three suites and put them in the order of the drama.

As the opening Capulets and Montagues music strutted into the hall it occurred to me that something special might happen this season. The orchestra has been at a consistent level of excellence since the 2013 tour of China. This might be the season when the orchestra takes it up another notch.

Confirmation of the orchestra’s march toward transcendence arrived in the final two sections, Romeo at the Grave of Juliet and Death of Juliet. The sonic unity of the orchestra's tone, when applied to this music, was special.

It has begun.

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