Latest WSO concert premieres American composer Amy Beach’s ‘Gaelic Symphony’ – Winnipeg Free Press

Ahead of International Women’s Day, celebrated worldwide on March 8, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra commemorated a lesser-known composer who for well over a century lived in the shadow of her more frequently performed male counterparts.

His final concert in the (B)eyond Classics series, conducted by Daniel Raiskin, presented the WSO premiere of Amy Beach’s “Gaelic Symphony‘, which was first performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1896 and was notably the first symphony composed and published by an American woman.

It is truly remarkable that Beach, another piano prodigy who wrote around 300 works, wrote her entire symphony on par with Brahms or Elgar, with no formal composition lesson in sight. It’s a testament to her brilliance and ambition that she’s accomplished so much at a time when a woman’s lead has typically been centered around the hearth and home.

The four-movement work influenced by Dvorak’s “New World Symphony‘ is full of dramatic tension and steeped in Irish folksy melodies that reflect the composer’s own heritage. Raiskin pushed the players hard throughout, including his opening line, which is on Beach’s own song “The night is dark“ Chronicle of a turbulent sea voyage. The second movement offers a respite from the storms, including principal oboist Beverly Wang’s carefully rendered Irish jig, filled with subtext that spills into the strings.

Beach highlights individual musicians in her masterfully orchestrated, 45-minute piece with the third movement “Lento con molta expressione‘ with an opening rhapsodic violin solo performed by concertmaster Gwen Hoebig, juxtaposed with lyrical commentary by principal cellist Yuri Hooker. The final “Allegro di molto‘, inspired by the ‘robust life… passions and struggles’ of the Celts, rushes forward to its triumphant conclusion, with Raiskin and his musicians bravely, without glory, bearing witness to the full might of this mighty orchestra when pushed to the extreme.

Saturday night’s program also heralded the Manitoba debut of internationally acclaimed American flautist Demarre McGill, who treated the mostly older 784 audience to two performances on Saturday night.

Mozart’s “Flute Concerto No. 1 in G major KV 31‘ became an ideal showcase for McGill’s captivating artistry, with the flutist often appearing to dance with his gleaming wind instrument while throwing off lively, clearly articulated runs, trills and grand leaps between registers, first shown during the opening.Allegro maestoso.” A highlight of the entire evening were his virtuoso cadenzas, in which the artist unleashed his entire arsenal of technical pyrotechnics, saw his flute pop like a cork and sing like a siren.

In the subsequent “Adagio ma non troppo‘, in which one melted sentence led to the next. This performance may have ebbed and flowed a bit more and was more tender at certain moments, with even the strings’ entrances sometimes feeling tactile. McGill’s shorter, deeply expressive cadenza fared better, however, as the soloist was now unleashed from the proverbial tyranny of the downbeat, able to play with greater ease and freedom. The final “rondo‘ oozed graceful refinement in the spirit of a minuet, with the radiant performer, who also currently serves as principal flutist for the Seattle Symphony, receiving a deserved standing ovation, with demands for two curtain calls, from the delighted audience.

His second offer, American composer/conductor Michael Tilson Thomas “Nocturne‘ (2005), scored for flute, harp and strings, paid homage to the unabashedly lyrical world of Italian music and to the sense of ‘wonder’ musicians experience as they hone their craft. The textural orchestration of double and flutter tongue effects showcased McGill’s bravado, with the musician taking listeners on a journey into a sprawling landscape of erratic moods. However, the 14-minute, episodic work composed for American flutist Paula Robison, and notably also a WSO premiere, arguably produced several false endings. McGill’s fierce conviction, underscored by the maestro’s sensitive direction, nonetheless created an effective continuity for this contemporary piece that would be just right on the Winnipeg New Music Festival stage.

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