The Central Ohio Symphony concluded its 39th season on April 28 with various dark and/or nocturnal works by Giuseppe Verdi, Peter I. Tchaikovsky, Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. The program started with Verdi’s overture to his opera “La forza del destino” (“The Force of Destiny”). Like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, it begins with the destiny motive that is an early warning that the protagonists of the work are doomed by fate from the onset. There was a time when people believed in astrology and thought that their destiny was predetermined by heavenly bodies, and that “disaster” (“bad stars”) was caused by the moon, the planets and the stars. The Symphony performed the relatively brief work with precision, having rehearsed it several times.
Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” has a similarly dreadful outcome. “For never was a story of more woe / than this of Juliet and her Romeo,” Shakespeare writes. The sun itself is so sad that she does not show her face the following morning. The two young lovers are severely admonished by their warring families who do not understand and have no empathy. When that does not stop Romeo and Juliet’s timeless passion for each other, they are brutally and violently torn apart, resulting in their death. But reunited in another realm, their love transcends the evils of the world and they live on as immortal stars in heaven. “Romeo and Juliet” is not easy to perform. There are technical difficulties, to be sure, but the emotional challenges may be even greater. The Symphony, under Music Director Jaime Morales-Matos, managed to strike the right balance in portraying love and hate, good and evil, agony and ecstasy. In a disunited world, full of demonic elements, Tchaikovsky’s fantasy overture still has a powerful story to tell. The composer’s yearning for unity, harmony, and peace shines through clearly.
Debussy’s lovely “Claire de lune,” was originally written for the piano. Like Beethoven’s “Moonlight” piano sonata no. 14, it is one of the most famous depictions of Earth’s lunar planet. André Caplet, a contemporary of Debussy and Ravel, wrote the orchestral arrangement used for this performance. The sensuous melody of the piece, which uses lots of strings and legato, was beautifully rendered by the Symphony.
The main work of the evening was Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloé.” The two suites were performed without pause, with Dr. José Francisco Salgado’s film “Moonrise” projected on a huge screen behind the orchestra. The documentary shows the history of moon exploration over the centuries, many depictions of the moon waxing and waning, and lunar eclipses. It is a production of KV 265, which also made a documentary that accompanies Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” (2012). As Dr. Salgado said during his astronomy lecture on the previous day, KV 265 is a reference to Mozart’s twelve piano variations of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” (Köchelverzeichnis 265). “Daphnis and Chloé” was a true test for the Symphony. The daring and lush work is Ravel’s longest and a veritable tour de force that taxes even the most prestigious orchestras in the world. Additional musicians had to be brought in, including lots of percussionists. However, even during rehearsals, the Symphony’s main problem was not musical exactitude. Instead, the challenge was to perfectly align the length of the six movie segments with the six movements of the suites. In the end, they were a few seconds off in a couple of instances, but that truly did not matter. The Symphony’s technical execution was astounding, due to the musicians’ superior skills and Maestro Morales-Matos’ watchful ear and eye. The delighted audience was in heaven and applauded the orchestra and its conductor with a standing ovation.
Following the concert, a dozen members of the Columbus Astronomical Society set up telescopes behind University Hall. It was a crystal-clear night, and concertgoers were invited to look at the full moon and its craters. Jupiter was also visible above the horizon, and, following in the footsteps of Galilei, interested parties could gaze at the planet’s four moons. The CAS has monthly meetings at Perkins Observatory. One of the members also informed the viewers that after years in the making, John Glenn Astronomy Park will open June 21 near Logan in Ohio’s Hocking Hills where the night sky can still be seen in its near pristine state. The new park is dedicated to sparking an interest in science, learning, and exploration by sharing with visitors the wonders of the sky, both day and night.
The celestial concert on April 28 was one of the most memorable ever. Afterwards, the moonstruck audience praised the Symphony for what it brings to the community, enriching and inspiring it in the process. As always, thanks to everyone who made the concert possible, including sponsor First Commonwealth Bank. If the Fates decree it, we will all see each other again at the Symphony’s July 4 plein-air concert on the OWU campus at 7:30 p.m. Until then, may the moon, planets, and stars watch over you.
Thomas K. Wolber, Ph.D., teaches foreign languages and literatures at Ohio Wesleyan University. He has an undergraduate degree in music from a German university, plays the piano, and is passionate about classical music. His email address is email@example.com.