Skip to content

CSO Does Dvořák

Last Saturday, May 14th, I had the pleasure of seeing the Colorado Symphony Orchestra perform three very diverse pieces. One I wasn’t sure I would like (brand new work), one I knew would be a slog (very 20th century modern concerto), and one that I knew I would greatly enjoy (Dvořák , baby!). Let’s go in order, shall we?


Dessner’s Réponse Lutosławski

Bryce Dessner, known for both his compositions (his score for The Revenant earned him a Golden Globe nomination) and as the guitarist in the Grammy-nominated hipster indie band The National, composed this piece as part of an anniversary celebration of Poland’s most prominent composers, including Witold Lutosławski (per the program notes). The information on this piece is a bit thin on the ground and I was unable to listen to it before the performance. It only premiered in November 2014, so it is on the cutting edge of modern composition. Which could be good or bad. And I must say overall it was quite good. 😀  I would LOVE to hear this piece again (hint hint, powers that be) so that I could examine it further.

What stood out for me was the use of space–the space between the notes and the physical movement of the music through the different instruments. I was in the front row, which was not my choice or preference–there is such a thing as too close.  This did however give me an amazing view as the music moved within the orchestra. It was composed for only strings so the timbre palette was both limited by this and set free of having to accommodate the other instrument families’ timbres and volume. I was reminded of Zoë Keating‘s amazing music, where one listens to all the layers converge into a cohesive whole. Hopefully this piece will be available as a recording soon!

In the interim, Dessner’s music is available for purchase in the usual outlets and to stream on Spotify.


Bartok’s Violin Concerto No. 2

Sometimes at concerts, one encounters a piece of music (or an opening band) that requires an internal pep talk to remain politely engaged (or at least keep up the appearance of such). What does the pep talk entail, you ask?  For the Bartók, it ranged from telling myself that expanding my horizons is good for me to actively trying not to squirm as my leg fell asleep (the front row has its pros and cons). I also had time to reflect on the historical context of the piece, written on the eve of World War II. The atonality and lack of sustained melodies seem appropriate when staring down the war that was to come, even if the context doesn’t make me a fan.*  As I’ve noted before, I struggle with finding atonality enjoyable and can only really appreciate it on an academic level.  Though to be fair Béla did tone it down compared to his compatriots.

All of that said, there was one absolute positive to the performance and it was Concertmaster Yumi Hwang-Williams on the violin. I’ve admired her playing before but this was my first opportunity to see her highlighted in such away and damn! Her playing was flawless and passionate. Her intensity alternated between a still, deep focus and a foot-stomping bravura. It was a pleasure to behold and while I know the piece is next-level challenging (quarter-tones, Bartók, really?), she made it seem effortless. I look forward to seeing her in the spotlight again!

For a taste of this challenging work, check it out here.


In my head, I always hear “I will find you”

Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95, “From the New World”

Antonín Dvořák is one of those composers that people love so much they steal from him all the time. This particular symphony has been a gold mine for John Williams, who took the opening of the fourth movement for his Jaws Theme and a motif in the third for part of “The Duel of Fates” (he didn’t limit himself to just Orff on that one) and some feel that the opening portions of the first movement are reflected in the end music for A New Hope. Additionally, the second movement was converted into the pseudo-folk tune “Going Home” by one of Dvořák’s students. All of this really means that the symphony will feel familiar, even to those new to classical music.

Dvořák’s purpose in composing the symphony, as we are all taught in school (well, the music students at least 😉 ), was to reflect on the North American music he had heard after taking up residence in New York. Such is the power of suggestion that even though I actually feel like the music retains more of his native Bohemia than anything overtly American, I “see” in my head lush landscapes, pretty much like the ones that make The Last of Mohicans such a visual treat.**

And how did the CSO do with such a famous symphony? Spectacularly well, of course! It is a big piece with lots of drama, action, and dynamic shifts and they played it beautifully under the baton of Maestro Andre de Ridder. I had decent sight lines on the cello section (Dvořák loved the cello, so we love him), and it was great to follow along with the “team”. I was also the only person banging her head in the front row, so if you were there and saw the tall red head boppin’ along, you’ve found her. 😀

To hear a good rendition (with a weird little surprise at the end), check out the symphony here:

All in all, it was an excellent evening at the symphony. I only have one set of tickets left this season (gasp!), time to buy next season’s tickets…

As always, please support the musicians by buying or streaming your music legally. It’s so easy!  Try it here or here or even here.  And if you enjoy the CSO, please support them by donating or attending their concerts.  Denver has a fantastic orchestra that needs your help to keep bringing music to the community.  Thank you!

* When I got home, I looked around a bit for greater context (I love me some research) and found this lengthy article on it. Or you can read the cliffnotes version on Wikipedia.

**  Well, there was more to it than the scenery…


You’re welcome


Photo Credit:  Yumi Hwang Williams: © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2009