Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki led the CSO in an eclectic program. The evening opened with Bizet’s first symphony, the Symphony in C Major, a work written when he was only 17 years old. It is not as polished as his later compositions, but is full of youthful vigor and appeal, which Mälkki emphasized throughout. The orchestra reacted well to her leadership, creating a jaunty feel in the first movement and drawing energetic contrasts. The Adagio had mezmerizing oboe work, creamy violins, and suitably restrained pizzicatos throughout the strings. This was followed by sunny, dance-like music in the third movement. The finale was performed at a wild and scurrying pace that never forfeited clarity. Mälkki and the musicians maintained a fun sense of urgency right up to the moment of the exciting conclusion.
… This was followed by Marsalis taking up the alto saxophone to serve as soloist – along with CSO musicians Robert Kassinger on bass and Cynthia Yeh on vibraphone – for John Williams’s “Escapades,” music from the film “Catch Me if You Can.” The performance included orchestral members snapping their fingers and making shushing sounds to add to the jazzy feel.
Marsalis was completely at ease in the jazz and was well served by Kassinger and Yeh, who brought vibrant color and pizzazz to the performance. Mälkki drew out the impressionistic elements of the score, without sacrificing any of the joy in the sometimes madcap music.
After the intermission, the orchestra took on the world premiere of “Proceed, Moon” by Melinda Wagner, a piece commissioned by the CSO. The music was atmospheric – at times powerful, at other times gruff. It was full of spits and growls, coughs and sneers. In some moments it invited contemplation and at others it inspired confusion. It was given a serious and thoughtful reading, and included shimmering work by John Bruce Yeh on clarinet and gentle homage by Robert Chen on violin at the very end.
The concert concluded with Debussy’s colorful “Ibéria” from “Images” for Orchestra. It was picturesque and evoked the fragrances of Spain. The outer movements were rhythmically vigorous while the middle movement was gentle, lush, and languid. This 20-minute postcard brought the evening to a delightful close.