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One of Morlot’s June concerts was, for me, the unequivocal high point of the season and a memorable confirmation of his extraordinary gifts. He devoted an entire program to Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust, leading not only the SSO but its chorus and a lineup of vocal soloists. It’s a fascinating problem piece and has been variously staged as an opera and a concert oratorio. There isn’t even consensus as to its genre, and Berlioz labeled his audacious rewrite of the Goethe source a “dramatic legend.”
Here was everything Morlot has to offer, confidently brought together in a blissful evening of music making that made me wish these events weren’t so short-lived (only two performances) but could be restaged and experienced again at different points in the season. Even a bizarre offstage glitch (a patron’s personal alarm going off in the second half and forcing a brief impromptu intermission) wasn’t able to derail the maestro’s intense focus.
Above all what Morlot demonstrated was his remarkable sense for the inherent drama of a musical score: the drama contained within notes, phrases, instrumentation, all creating the emotional arch of a piece, as opposed to the reductive narratives of program music. Morlot has shown over and over that he has a great talent for telling stories, in that deeper sense, through music. This comes through in the details, the sense of fore-, middle-, and background he paints with the orchestra, but here it cohered into an abundantly satisfying whole as well.
Already this weekend tickets go on sale for the coming SSO season, in which Morlot will have a larger presence, conducting 10 of the regular masterworks programs as well as several other series (family concerts, chamber events, and the ongoing “Sonic Evolution” series). Two not-to-miss events will be the SSO’s first-ever performances of two 20th-century monuments: Messiaen’s lush, sprawling, exuberant Turangalîla Symphony and the moving War Requiem of Benjamin Britten (hard to believe this has never been done here!). There’s also a larger proportion of standard Central European rep, including Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms, through which we can observe the evolution of a young maestro and the continuing refinement of the SSO.
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