published Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Chattanooga Symphony & Opera season kicks off with tribute to heroes

Mel R. Wilhoit
Kayoko Dan, Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra conductor
Kayoko Dan, Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra conductor
Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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The Chattanooga Symphony & Opera kicked off its new season Saturday evening in grand style with "Heroes: Napoleon to Superman," conducted by Maestro Kayoko Dan. It also offered a new schedule, moving to Saturday evening at the Tivoli and Sunday afternoon at the Volkswagen Conference Center.

In her second season, Maestro Dan set her mark on this year's programming, featuring the work of contemporary composer Michael Daugherty. Best known for his "Metropolis Symphony," it debuted at Carnegie Hall and was recorded by the Nashville Symphony, garnering three Grammy Awards.

"Metropolis Symphony" celebrates the comic book hero Superman. The three movements programmed Saturday included "Krypton," portraying an escape from the exploding planet; "Oh Lois!," revealing her countless rescues from danger; and "Red Cape Tango," depicting Superman's final demise.

"Metropolis" feels cinematic, sounding more rhythmic than melodic and dominated at times by heavy percussive effects. "Red Cape Tango" proved the most fascinating, based on the medieval "Dies Irae" chant, a staple of Roman Catholic funerals, classical compositions and Hollywood movies.

Although the composer's explanation before each movement assisted the listener, it broke up the composition from a musical perspective. The work is notable for its spatial effects and often light-hearted humor, reflecting its comic roots. Kayoko Dan did an excellent job in a demanding work.

After intermission, the heroic theme continued with Beethoven's "Symphony No. 3 in E-flat," originally dedicated to the composer's hero, Napoleon -- until he declared himself emperor and the composer scratched his name off the title page-leaving a hole.

Programming this familiar warhorse contains many pitfalls as most listeners have heard countless near-perfect performances. Yet this offering was well worth hearing as was evident from the opening notes. Each phrase was delicately nuanced, sensitive and attentive to detail. The ensemble playing was near perfect, and Maestro Dan produced exquisitely molded lines of sparkling clarity. This continued throughout three additional movements.

The string sound was full and rich, perhaps owing to the leadership of Katherine McLin, a candidate for the concertmaster position vacated by Don Zimmer, who was honored for 33 years of service to the CSO. The performance was a sterling reading, and what Kayoko Dan may have lacked in a more impassioned approach, she more than compensated for with a highly intelligent and emotionally rewarding interpretation. The audience seemed to sense that and responded with a standing ovation.

With this level of creative programming and outstanding playing, the new season seems off to a great start. The concert will be broadcast Wednesday evening on WSMC.

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