Honeck conducts The Chicago Symphony Orchestra review-Montgomery, Yeh and Bruckner

Thu, May 30, 2024 -- Chicago Symphony Orchestra Manfred Honeck, Conductor Cynthia Yeh, Percussion Montgomery, Procession [World Premiere, CSO Commission] Bruckner, Symphony No. 7 © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2024
Spread the love

On May 30, 2024, in a concert to be presented again on May 31st and June 1st, Austrian Guest Conductor Manfred Honeck led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, Chicago. The program was comprised of the world premiere performance of Procession, 2024, a CSO commission by CSO Mead Composer-in-Residence Jessie Montgomery, and Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 in E Major, 1881-83. The June 1st performance of Montgomery and Bruckner is part of the 2023/2024 Season of CSO Music/Now. 

The BBC has called the prolific Grammy-winning composer/violinist/educator Montgomery “One of the most distinctive and communicative voices in the US, as a player and a creator.” Procession for solo percussionist and orchestra was a jubilant, exciting 5 movement piece featuring CSO Principal Percussionist Cynthia Yeh. Much of Montgomery’s composition is highly rhythmic, but this is the first piece she has composed for percussion per se. Yeh commented that the new concerto has “Room for a lot of space, which is unusual for a percussion concerto”. In fact, there was a clarity among and between the myriad sounds, a call and response, a dying away and starting up, never clamorous.

Conductor Manfred Honeck leads The Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Jessie Montgomery’s “Procession” and Anton Bruckner’s Symphony 7, May 30, 2024

Percussionists, unlike many other members of the orchestra, play numerous different instruments requiring unique approaches and skills, using different mallets or sticks, or even just the hands or feet. Yeh herself has helped develop such implements for Dragonfly Percussion, a number of which bear her name. In this intriguing performance, upright as a flame in a spangled pantsuit, she played the drum set, the glockenspiel, the vibraphone, the West African djembe, the tom tom, the kick drum, and the bass drum, moving between 2 groups of these instruments at the front of the stage, and 2 on a raised platform behind, traversing deftly back and forth, changing and turning with apparent ease.

One can only imagine the challenge for the composer, integrating all those possible vibrant sounds, utilizing all those different methods, and melding them into a satisfying and colorful musical experience with the rest of the orchestra! However, Procession is imbued with both passion and grace; the work as a whole is centered, with both a dramatic sense and an elegant quality. Strings, woodwinds and brass produced shimmers and trills of sound, calling forth the processionals of life, personal and public, that the piece was created to demonstrate. A flute and piccolo duet was charming and reminiscent of celtic screeling.

Cynthia Yeh performs Jessie Montgomery’s “Procession” with The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Manfred Honeck conducting, May 30, 2024

Bruckner’s 7th Symphony reaped acclaim upon its premier in Leipzig in 1884 and again at its premiere in Munich in 1885, and marked a major turnaround in the composer’s life, thrusting him, after a decidedly colorless career, onto the international stage. It’s a large piece, proceeding with a stately slow intensity, reaching mighty climaxes, yet still formed of beautifully lyrical melody. It’s been referred to as mystical, cosmic, ghostly, even frightening in aspects.

Honeck, Music Director of The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, conceived and realized a thoroughly impressive, controlled conception of tempo, of the huge crescendos, of the extended phrases.

The symphony opens with a hushed and mighty force of strings which emerge from absolute silence and unfold into a serene and reverential theme. Various brass instruments are isolated; the piece divides into 3 melodies and the climatic ending of this ultra-long opening movement is borne in by the fanfare of brass and frantic strings. The even-longer Adagio begins with a flare of tubas and proceeds to a first climax with a dramatic use of percussion, including triangle, cymbal and snare. The extended coda is said to have been written in memory of Wagner, with pointed harmony and glorious strings.

The tricky, fast Scherzo is lively, bouncy, dominated by strings and trumpet before moving through the brass and becoming pastoral in effect. Ultimately, the finale begins much like the 7th opened; slowly it changes, built up by the brass, fanfares enter and the whole ends with full force: thrilling!

CSO Principal Percussionist Cynthia Yeh performs Jessie Montgomery’s “Procession” with The Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck on May 30, 2024 at Symphony Center, Chicago

The CSO has just announced programming details for its 2024/2025 Music/NOW Series curated by Mead Composer-Curators Daniel Bernard Roumain and Jimmy López Bellido. The series features works by both in the first 2 programs to be held November 23, 2024 and March 23, 2025. 

All photos by Todd Rosenberg

For information and tickets to all the fine programming of The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, go to www.cso.org


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.