Symphony boldly reaches for stars


By Thomas K. Wolber - Contributing columnist



The COVID-19 pandemic caused the 2020-21 concert season of the Central Ohio Symphony to be canceled, but – as Board President David Hejmanowski joyously declared – the performing arts are now back and alive again. The Symphony has scheduled a full program of five concerts for the current season, plus the traditional Fourth of July celebration. Among the upcoming highlights are Brahms’ Symphony No. 1, Verdi’s “La Traviata,” and Peter Boyer’s “Ellis Island.” Also on the program are a clarinet concerto by Michael Rene Torres and a trumpet concerto by Arturo Márquez, among other contemporary works. Season tickets are $124 ($90 for first-time subscribers). Individual tickets are $29 ($24 for seniors and $6 for students of all ages). Facial coverings and, as it turns out, proof of vaccination against COVID-19 are required for all concertgoers.

Two major works were on the program for the first concert of the 2021-22 season: Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, nicknamed the “Jupiter,” and Jacob Reed’s “Into the Void,” a brand-new multimedia production involving music, video, and narration. Mozart composed his last symphony, with 33 minutes his longest, in 1788. The canonical masterpiece has a lot of Storm and Stress elements, which was the prevailing zeitgeist in literature and the arts at that tumultuous time. It is mostly fast, loud, and has a lot of booming percussion. There are passages that anticipate Beethoven, especially his fateful Symphony No. 5. Some scholars even claim to have detected certain militaristic outbursts in the score. Even the slow second movement, “Andante cantabile,” is imbued with a sense of pre-revolutionary yearning, tension, and urgency. Not surprisingly, the symphony reminded contemporaneous musician Johann Peter Salomon (1745-1815) of Jupiter (Zeus to the Greeks), the Roman storm god who hurled the thunderbolt. Jupiter was the god of celestial phenomena and the king of heaven. Salomon’s nickname stuck. It is fitting that the largest planet of our solar system is also named after Jupiter. It is surrounded by many moons, incidentally all named after the numerous lovers that the ancient god arduously pursued. Haydn, Mozart, and the young Beethoven can seem predictable, derivative, and easy to perform. But it is not so. It takes considerable experience and practice to find the proper balance of lucidity and depth, lightheartedness and seriousness. Maestro Jaime Morales-Matos, now in his 19th season with the Symphony, had to work hard during the rehearsals to achieve the desired result.

The second half of the program consisted of the world premiere of “Into the Void: A Journey into a Black Hole for Orchestra and Astrophysicist,” a 45-minute collaborative effort between Ohio-based composer Jacob Reed, renowned scientist (and narrator) Paul M. Sutter, videographer David Bengali, and director Tom Dugdale. The collaboration began more than three years ago. The concert program noted that at its core, “Into the Void” is “a journey from the known into the unknown.” There are millions of black holes in the universe, including in our own galaxy. In fact, the astronomer stated, the universe may be “tuned to create black holes” instead of being tuned to create life. However, their secrets have so far escaped human understanding. There are more questions than answers. In the latest “Decadal Survey” by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the study of black holes and neutron stars is identified as one of the three astronomical goals for the next decade. In his narration, astronomer Sutter feels compelled to explore the mysteries of the cosmos and drawn to one of these black holes: “It is calling us.” He wants to look deep into it and imagines what a visit would be like.

It was exhilarating to listen to Jacob Reed’s audacious and gripping music. During the November 3 rehearsal, there was no narration and video that distracted from the jagged soundscape. The music was raw and savage, chaotic and primeval. The traditional laws of melodies, harmonies, tonalities, instrumentation, and rhythms were largely suspended. It was music like you might imagine it was at the dawn of time (genesis), or will be at the end of time (apocalypse). Physical laws break down in the vicinity of black holes; everything is twisted, warped, and distorted. The lines of reality begin to blur. So it is in Reed’s score. The iconoclastic sound was literally “out of this world.” It had to be insanely difficult to perform this fiendishly complex work that defies all conventions, but under the steady baton of Morales-Matos the musicians did a superb job. This reviewer was initially fearful that the audience might not be able to appreciate the unorthodox work. However, once narration and video were added during the November 5 rehearsal, it all came together. While the music retained its feral nature, its impact was blunted by the civilizing and domesticating force of speech and film. If you watched the latest movie version of “Dune,” for example, you know what is meant here. The music, by Hans Zimmer, would be unpalatable if not for the film itself. The movie gives it purpose and meaning. However, there is a price to pay. In both cases, the music is relegated to a supporting, subservient role. It is no longer the master of the story. Instead, it recedes into the background. It therefore was a rare and special treat to experience the naked score, free of any visual distractions during the first rehearsal.

Once again, the stars have aligned to secure a successful outcome. The inaugural concert of the 2021-22 season exemplified the Symphony’s commitment to its mission: “Engaging the community through music.” The orchestra and its music director are cultivating the classical tradition while also championing new, diverse voices. The Central Ohio Symphony gratefully acknowledges support from the Ohio Arts Council, PNC Arts Alive, the City of Delaware, Ohio Wesleyan University, donors, ticket buyers, and volunteers. The community is invited to join the Symphony again on Sunday, Dec. 12, for two identical holiday concerts (2 and 4:30 p.m.) with classically trained soprano Angel V. Tyler as guest artist. She currently serves as Residential Life Coordinator for Ohio Wesleyan University.

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By Thomas K. Wolber

Contributing columnist

Thomas K. Wolber, Ph.D., taught foreign languages and literatures at Ohio Wesleyan University for over 30 years. He is now retired. Wolber has an undergraduate degree in music from a German university, plays the piano, and is passionate about classical music. His email address is tkwolber@owu.edu.

Thomas K. Wolber, Ph.D., taught foreign languages and literatures at Ohio Wesleyan University for over 30 years. He is now retired. Wolber has an undergraduate degree in music from a German university, plays the piano, and is passionate about classical music. His email address is tkwolber@owu.edu.