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Volume 68, Issue 20, Monday, September 23, 2002

Arts & Entertainment

Sparks fly in Hans Grafsi HSO debut

By Chris Brunt
The Daily Cougar

The Houston Symphony Orchestrais opening night performance, Russian Fireworks, displayed the bravura and brilliance that has given the cityis ensemble worldwide recognition.

Hans Graf made his subscription series debut as music director of HSO, claiming the Jones Hall podium with intelligence and grace. This is the last of three consecutive transitional seasons for HSO, as the long process of replacing former music director Christoph Eschenbach is finally over and the new conductor now enjoys full benefit of his post.

The all-Russian concert began with Alexander Scriabinis Le Poeme de liExtase, (The Poem of Ecstacy), a Modernist work popular for its rich orchestration and powerful, innovative tonality. This symphonic poem was performed capably and sensuously, ending in a voluptuous climax so Russian that Jones Hall felt even more frigid than usual.

The next piece was the popular Violin Concerto by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, performed by replacement soloist Philip Quint. The young Quint played with wonderful exuberance, displaying true showmanship as well as a breathtaking virtuosity during the many technically difficult passages, punctuating flourishes by ecstatic leaps in the air. During the furious cadenzas, a trail of white smoke could actually be seen emanating from his fiddle. The orchestra accompanied Quint politely and with reassuring steadiness and accuracy.

The headliner of the eveningis program was Igor Stravinskyis infamous Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring). Subtitled Scenes of Pagan Russia, the score to the ballet of the same name was debuted in Paris in 1913, causing an actual riot among viewers because of its bizarre ferocity.

The music is like no other orchestral work ever written; it is visionary in its primal, raw strangeness. Imagine a symphonic work is so pulsating, so visceral in its atonality, that it immediately transports you to the dawn of time the birth of the cosmos. The harmonies conjure the earliest tribal dances, complete with virginal sacrifices and magical rhythms of the infant universe. The harsh dissonance and syncopation ultimately achieves a transcending effect, leaving the listener exhausted, pleased and with a sublime connection to ancestral roots.

Graf did a commendable job of leading his new orchestra through this fantastically difficult masterpiece. 

Filling the shoes of conductor laureate Eschenbach is a daunting task, as the former maestro is now one of the most respected and celebrated conductors in the orchestral world.

Graf isnit a showman of Eschenbachis caliber; heis much more understated in his expression on the podium, yet the orchestra is playing with such precision and freshness under his baton, one cannot doubt his musicianship.

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