By Owen Bryant
As we approach the end of the second month of 2022, the number 2 deserves some special attention. It is the definition of duality, but a one that can manifest either as harmony or opposition. And sometimes both. That is what the Reno Chamber Orchestra was aiming to achieve with their latest program.
The “Terrific Twos” appropriately took place over two performances this past Saturday and Sunday at UNR’s Nightingale Hall. Joined by guests Yaniv Attar conducting, flute soloist Demarre McGill, and pianist Jessica Choe, the orchestra highlighted distinctly different works that took the audience on a journey from harmony to disharmony, and back again—a tipping of the scales that unexpectedly seemed more relevant to current events than ever intended.
Opening with Dvorak’s Czech Suite in D major, Op. 39 (1879), the orchestra painted an idyllic landscape of sound. Lush string arrangements paired beautifully with woodwinds and horns in a series of five movements. The pastoral Preludium floated along, soon transitioning into a more pronounced polka, but one much more graceful and prettier than anything you’d imagine hearing at Oktoberfest.
The Minuet served as a plateau, occasionally hinting at the discord to come later, but only slightly.
The woodwinds had their moments to shine during the andante Romance, especially the English horn and its demure solos throughout. As one might expect, the finale triumphantly finishes up with a fiery gusto.
The program’s second work was Schulhoff’s Double Concerto for Flute, Piano, and Orchestra (1927), specially selected by featured soloists Choe and McGill. It begins with an allegro movement rife with entrancingly disharmonic, schizophrenic melodies typical of many early 20th century neoclassical composers.
McGill and Choe commanded authority over the stage and the music, bouncing off each other in effortless but frenzied volleys of calls and responses and counterpoint. Even the more relaxed andante movement maintained a level of tension that sustained the levels of intrigue and mystery.
Escalating in tempo and mood through the final movement, it was both maddening and a relief to hear its final gliding note stab into the hall.
After such a wild ride, intermission was a welcome respite, after which the program concluded with Beethoven’s familiar and stately Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36 (1801-1802). In his signature fashion, Beethoven’s work is definitely the most straightforward and even-keeled of the program which provided a sense of stability and resolution.
The four movements carefully bring the audience back to the triumph of Dvorak, equal in its jollity, but more disciplined in its execution. It was a perfect landing after such a turbulent journey.
There was yet another element to this concert that nobody involved could have even planned that added another layer of poignancy. After two dark years in the thick of a pandemic, we have all been hoping for a glimmer of peace that doesn’t seem too far out of reach, but perhaps unsurprisingly something else came along to cause upset to 2022.
In the last week, the world has been gripped by Russia’s ruthless attack on Ukraine. The stress and uncertainty of watching an all-out war erupt in Europe is inescapable.
Executive Director Thom Mayes commented on how these feelings strangely echo throughout the program. Dvorak teases the peace we all crave coming out of a two-year pandemic. Schulhoff, once himself a prisoner of war, brings to life the uneasy chaos of emotions caused by sudden tragedy. Beethoven attempts to remedy that chaos with promises of strength and hope.
Conductor Attar left us with a final message: “Often evil has the louder voice, but today, I hope music will have the louder voice.”
As unintentional as it was, this program illustrated the dualities of harmony and discord; hope and fear; war and peace. We all experience the brightest of days and the darkest of days. When the pendulum swings the wrong way, know that it will return.
This is ultimately the message with which I left the concert hall. As much as we worry for those affected by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, there is just as much, if not more, hope to carry us through.