The article below appeared in the Albuquerque Journal of September 16, 2007.
Seventy-five years ago the New Mexico Symphony played its first concert, and Friday night the orchestra celebrated this diamond anniversary. For an American orchestra, and especially one from the West, 75 years is an impressive figure indeed and an achievement in which the entire community should take pride.
Opening the commemorative season was a work commissioned by the NMSO from this writer, Daniel Steven Crafts. Whimsically titled Fanfare Overture: Red or Green?, the piece calls for nearly the entire orchestra including four percussionists.
Viola soloist Paul Neubauer then took the stage for Bartók's Viola Concerto. This work is something of a Frankenstein in that it was cobbled together form sketches. Before his death Bartók claimed the piece was finished, but when his friend and colleague Tibor Serly attempted to assemble the notes, the task proved anything but straightforward. Consequently the piece has sometimes been called into question.
There was nothing to question, however, in Neubauer's rich, bittersweet sound, making a persuasive case for the work, even in this form—a revision of a revision. His is a particularly lyrical reading, preferring to spin delicate and beautiful spider webs of tone before moments of precision attack. In the Finale-Allegretto the orchestra drove through Bartók's viscerally angular harmonies and vivid Hungarian themes as Neubauer demonstrated a formidable technical proficiency, rounded off with expressive nuance.
There could not be a more fitting work to celebrate this important occasion than Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, crowning the NMSO's run of all that composer's symphonic offerings. Roger Melone's NMSO Chorus has been garnering well-deserved accolades from a variety of quarters lately. They recently returned with enthusiastic acclaim from a performance of this same work with no less than the Philadelphia Orchestra.
In the opening Allegro ma non troppo, Maestro Figueroa wove an opulent tapestry of sound at once both immensely profound and yet supremely simple. The Scherzo then thundered forth in a blaze of energy underscored by the timpani's heartbeat of all humanity. The opening statement of the Ode to Joy theme in the strings was the most blissfully serene I have ever heard, while moments later the full chorus burst forth with the theme, shining its brilliant light of brotherhood and equality upon a contemporary world so badly in need of its illumination. However the chorus sang with the Philadelphians it could hardly have been more majestic than what resounded through the confines of Popejoy Hall this evening. A group of four outstanding vocal soloists added the final touch to a movement full of heartfelt dramatic reflection.
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is a moment of epiphany in the development of humanity. Hearing the work in live performance is an event everyone should experience at least once, and here is an outstanding opportunity to do so.
Note: The soloists were: