San Antonio Symphony, SLL, Ewa
Webs of influence
November 17, 2012
San Antonio Symphony music
director Sebastian Lang-Lessing opened the concert of Nov.
16 with neoclassicism in chaps and closed with real
classicism in fine tailoring. In between came the very
welcome return of pianist Ewa Kupiec in an uncommonly
elegant account of Maurice Ravel’s Concerto in G.
The items on the first half, Ravel’s concerto and Aaron
Copland’s suite of dances from his “Rodeo” ballet score, “
were connected by far-reaching webs of influence that
converged in Paris. After intermission came Mozart’s last
symphony, No. 41 in C, known as the “Jupiter.”
popularity among American audiences stems in large measure
from his appropriation of American folk tunes and idioms in
scores such as “Rodeo,” “Billy the Kid” and “Appalachian
Spring,” all of which evoke a distinctly American agrarian
But Copland’s most formative experience was his study with
the legendary teacher Nadia Boulanger in Paris, in the early
1920s. Boulanger, in turn, had come under the influence of
Igor Stravinsky’s neoclassicism, which revived the
contrapuntal technique of the period we now call “baroque.”
Copland soaked up the neoclassical style, which remained the
framework for his music throughout his life, whether in the
folksiness of the 1942 “Rodeo” or the serial techniques of
“Connotations,” two decades later.
The neoclassical aspects of “Rodeo” seemed to take
precedence over the Americana in Mr. Lang-Lessing’s
clear-eyed but somewhat deliberate account of the score.
There were a few moments of loose ensemble, but on the whole
the orchestra was in excellent form. Notable solo
contributions came from principal trombone Amanda Davidson,
principal trumpet John Carroll, principal bass Thomas
Huckaby and, in the lovely tune based on “I Ride an Old
Paint,” oboist Hideaki Okada.
While the American Copland
was absorbing French neoclassicism, the Frenchman Ravel was
absorbing American jazz, all the rage in the Paris of the
‘20s. In 1928 he toured the United States and met George
Gershwin, whose “Rhapsody in Blue” and Piano Concerto in F
would leave traces all over Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G,
completed in 1931.
Ms. Kupiec previously appeared with the orchestra three
years ago, playing Beethoven’s “Emperor” concerto on Mr.
Lang-Lessing’s second tryout before his appointment as music
director. As before, they made a mutually sympathetic team.
Ms. Kupiec’s limitless technique served as an example of the
art that conceals art, asserting itself less in dazzlement
(though there was some of that, too) than in a gorgeous
legato, a satiny touch, meticulous control of dynamics and a
supple sense of rhythm. She brought unaffected but deeply
affecting directness to the long unaccompanied waltz that
begins the central slow movement.
The performance of Mozart’s
miraculous symphony was most notable for the quality of
sound that Mr. Lang-Lessing got from the orchestra. It was a
creamy, integrated sound, the woodwinds and brass nearly
twins of each other and blending seamlessly into the
strings, which sounded more silken than ever. The
conductor didn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel, but he did
bring some interesting interpretive subtleties to the score
-- in the trio of the third movement, for example, a slight
broadening of the tempo added an insinuating emphasis to the
woodwinds’ sighs. The finale’s complex weave of ideas came
across with admirable clarity and vivacity.
The Majestic Theatre’s cloud projector was once again dark
or absent. One hopes for a speedy return to action.