Amidst blazing brass and pounding percussion, the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra opened its current season at the Tivoli Theatre on Thursday evening under the direction of Maestra Kayoko Dan.
Aaron Copland's sonic "Fanfare for the Common Man" led off with its familiar martial swagger. Originally composed in 1942 as a commission from the Cincinnati Symphony for a series of fanfares to open its programs, this work captured the public's fancy and has gone on to become the patriotic fanfare for all national occasions.
While a delight to hear, it's a challenge for brass players, who must negotiate heroic and powerful playing in a very exposed way - meaning there's nothing to cover up the slightest mistakes. But mistakes didn't seem to be a problem as the brass and percussion sections delivered a near-flawless rendition in a slightly reserved but yet noble performance.
The year 1942 was a busy one for Copland, who also composed the music for Martha Graham's novel ballet, "Appalachian Spring," about a young couple getting married and beginning life together.
The composer initially felt he was wasting his time, composing music for a new ballet that would, no doubt, be quickly forgotten. But it won a Pulitzer Prize, and Copland adapted the music into a symphonic suite that has since gained a central place in the orchestral repertoire.
The version played Thursday (from 1945) is in eight sections, depicting a variety of characters and events in the early life of the young couple. However, this performance had little to do with the ballet's original themes, as it was reimagined as background music to accompany a video performance celebrating the American space program. Whether that novelty enhanced or competed with the live performance was probably a matter of taste. What wasn't in question was the radiant performance turned in by Dan and her forces.
This is a tricky work at best, but the CSO played with energy, intelligence, wonderful intonation and an impressively tight ensemble. Balance between sections was perfect, and the quality of assured playing made one forget one was listening to a live performance - especially with the video performance overhead.
"Cinematic" was the word that came to mind as Gustav Holst's seven-movement work, "The Planets," was performed after intermission. Not because he composed it for the movies, but because Holst's musical style in this work is synonymous with what epic movie music is all about.
In particular, the movement, "Mars, the Bringer of War," came to define what movie music would sound like in depicting war or crescendoing action. In fact, this movement was actually used for the climactic final scenes in George Lucas' "Star Wars" while it was in production, before John Williams' epic music was completed.
Holst composed his interplanetary musical journey in 1916, and it immediately became his biggest hit. For each movement or planet (there's no movement for Earth or Pluto), the composer provided music that expressed a mood suggested by an astrological sign. Holst's music tends to fall into one of two general styles - lively and bold or mystical and meditative.
This performance also featured a video presentation, one created especially for the work that conveyed information about the composer and his planetary subjects. Overall, it was quite effective.
But it certainly wouldn't have been needed as Kayoko Dan offered another spectacular performance with amazingly clean playing, awash with dazzling solos from principal players, including the new concertmaster, Holly Mulcahy, and new principal flute, Kristen Holritz.
A nearly full house of enthusiastic patrons could hardly wait to offer a standing ovation as this opening concert set a high mark for the new season.