MOBILE, Alabama - Two newcomers took the Mobile Saenger Theatre stage Saturday evening and each brought what could be considered "mad love" to the occasion.
Guest conductor David Amado brought his obvious affection for the strange, seductive and uninhibited "Symphonie Fantastique" by Hector Berlioz, which rips through all the adhesions and constraints of formal classical music. The Mobile Symphony Orchestra performed it flawlessly.
Violin soloist Elena Urioste added her passion for the Beethoven Violin Concerto, one of the loveliest and most demanding works in the repertoire, which she delivered with a flourish.
The program was further enhanced by the solemn and reflective "Fratres," an 11-minute work by Estonian composer Arvo Part, which opened an evening of extraordinary music before a smaller-than-usual audience of 1,286.
Mobile Symphony Orchestra will present the second of its "Symphonie Fantastique" concerts at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26, at the Mobile Saenger Theatre. (See information box.)
It would not be a leap to think of this concert as "Beethoven & Berlioz & Blue Jeans," but there was nothing casual about the music itself. The composers are front and center, and during the first half the audience heard a dramatically different side of Beethoven.
The opening Allegro ma non troppo opened quietly enough but soon introduced a soloist who displayed neither fear nor fault with the daunting arpeggios and extended runs that punctuate the first movement.
The tone might have been leisurely, as program notes suggest, but Urioste was a riveting presence. She performed in bold strokes, alternately fiery and poetic, and she displayed the technique that earns worldwide acclaim.
In a recent interview with the Press-Register, Amado described Urioste as "refined and sensitive . . . with a deep reserve of technical ability," and she more than lived up to the praise Saturday night.
An NBC crew attended the concert to capture moments from the violinist's performance for broadcast. The network people could devote an hour-long special to the soloist, who was spectacular without being showy - especially during a lengthy, challenging interlude toward the close of the first movement.
When she wasn't playing, Urioste smiled at the power and proficiency of the MSO musicians. The slow and beautiful Larghetto led into the closing Rondo, a familiar theme that most audiences could hum along to. Folks certainly were humming by intermission.
The concert opened with "Fratres" ("Brothers"), a stunning piece by Arvo Part, who composed many variations. We heard the strings/percussion version, one of the most popular, and it was easy to succumb to its solemn and meditative rhythms that the composer describes as "tintinnabulation."
The music is simple yet powerful, an instrumental "chant," that created a pleasant and contemplative space for the Beethoven Concerto.
After an overlong intermission, Amado introduced the "Symphonie Fantastique," which throws off more colors than a kaleidoscope and more oddball twists and angles than a Fellini movie. The capable and confident MSO musicians followed Amado's lead and navigated Berlioz' pyrotechnics without imploding.
By turns lyrical, serene and hallucinatory, the piece is an intensely personal fusion of the real and imagined. Its roots lie in the composer's obsession with an Irish actress he later married. Only tumultuous love - the kind best left unrequited - could drive a man to produce music so grand.