Bedecked in tails and a scarlet vest for the Oregon Symphony's final show of the season, Maestro Carlos Kalmar bounded out of stage right Monday night and picked up a mic to welcome the crowd and give props to Steve Price (a 41-year veteran of the viola section!) who was only a couple hours away from his retirement. The crowd cheered in appreciative admiration for this amazing musician, and the raucous applause segue-wayed perfectly into a rousing overture composed by Franz von Suppé. My apologies in advance for dropping an F-bomb so soon in this review, but there's just one word, and one word only, that can adequately describe this opening number... a word that more conservative and learned reviewers usually avoid: fun.
The joyous sounds of Suppé subsided and the stage was set for an utterly different kind of musical experience featuring the evening's guest soloist. Jennifer Koh's elegant, strapless, floorlength gown of billowing indigo belied what was about to go down: Béla Bartók's utterly primal Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra. The plucked harp strings that open this composition apparently conjure up some ancient gypsy curse, because without warning Ms. Koh was instantly possessed for the next 36 minutes by an untamed frenetic spirit. Her black bob cut bounced wildly atop her convulsive head as her fingers and her hands and her arms danced with supernatural speed and unearthly technique. Her fiddle shrieked and wailed as she shredded it with a bow that somehow did not break under the pressure of such vicious virtuosity. The mutual gratitude between Koh and the band was almost palpable following the concerto's conclusion, as though everyone was relieved to have survived, unscathed by the brutal spell of Bartók.
Carlos & the Gang closed out 2012/13 with a classic, old-school gem: Brahms' massive First Symphony. The oft-gruff composer took two decades to write this music, but it only took the Oregon Symphony about 45 minutes to knock it out of the proverbial ballpark and prove, once again, why they are Portland's ultimate cover band. The stormy opening measures were underscored by the ominous timpani strokes of Jon "Animal" Greeney who (per the youzhe) held court with a kettle drum masterclass until the final roll of the rocking finale. Every section demonstrated sublime moments of glory throughout... Captain Frank and the stand-up guys of the double basses... Mr. John Cox and the impressive array of alpine-infused horns... Evan ably leading the battalion of bassoonists... Jeffrey workin' it with the sexiest line-up of brass you ever will witness. [Yowza!] And extra-special beavertail salutes go out to oboe god Marty Hebert, flute wonder Jess Sindell, and our kick-ass concertmaster Sarah Kwak: Um, y'all are simply brilliant. Period. Monday night proved to be the perfect capstone atop another transcendent Oregon Symphony season filled with surprises, loaded with talent, and chock-full of the most jaw-dropping music humanity has ever produced. I don't know about you, but this blogger is already stoked for 2013/14.