The bassoon is featured briefly in the final movement of a symphony known to the ages as “Pathetique.” The passage took on added meaning Saturday night in a (4 stars out of 5) performance by the Civic Symphony of Green Bay.
If the concert were last season, the passage would have been played by Kathryn “Kathy” Collins. But she is dead. She died June 13 of cancer.
“I’m sure she is watching from heaven and is with us here in spirit,” her friend, conductor Seong-Kyung Graham, told the audience at the
Graham spoke of Collins continuing to play through chemotherapy treatments and despite losing sensitivity in her fingers. Graham spoke of Collins being a founding member of the Civic Symphony, now in its 18th season, and of other important elements in her life that I highlight at the end of this review.
Graham said she was dedicating to Collins the evening’s performance of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 6 (‘Pathetique’).” In the midst of her announcement, Graham paused to gather herself.
The work is descriptive of Tchaikovsky’s life. The final movement considers death. When time came for the bassoon solo, Graham had me thinking of Collins, who I did not know. The voice of the bassoon became a person, a stranger but a stranger no more. Funny how the power of great music connects in unexpected ways.
Overall, the orchestra zoned in to Graham’s passion for the piece – which is more about fire for life than the “pathetic” part of its nickname suggests. The orchestra was especially smoothly flowing in the second movement, making it lovely. It embraced the work’s famous love theme, approached from many angles throughout the piece. The orchestra grabbed onto the third movement’s heady whirl that gives the impression of achievement and conquest. Graham was so pumped by energy released by the orchestra and the music of the third movement that when it was finished and she was setting herself up for the fateful forth, she turned the page of her score with such force it seemed she was close to tearing out the page. She was pumped. Then came death, or thoughts of it.
This piece got other special treatment. It was introduced in Russian by Olga Wirzenreid. After opening with “Good evening, my American friends,” she spoke of Tchaikovsky and his intentions with the four movements. Translating was Stuart Smith, who narrates Civic Symphony programs in informative, lively and playful ways. (Saturday, the playfulness included a bit about the composer’s name, which came out as Chi-COUGH-ski.)
The evening opened with another “only by Civic Symphony” touch. From its ranks, trumpeter Dan Marbes took the fore as soloist in “Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra” by Alexander Arutiunian. The work is billed as a showcase for trumpeters and ranks as one of the primo works of its kind. Fine, but for Civic Symphony and Marbes, we don’t get to hear it.
Not only does the piece require the trumpeter to open his satchel of skills, the orchestra gets to play richly colorful – along with eerie, vibrant, tension-filled and embracing – music in support of the trumpet. Marbes was most comfortable and controlled in the romantic, cozy passages. Nice.
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THE PEOPLE: Robert Meyer was president and chief executive officer of Tape Inc. of
IN MEMORIAM: Thanks to Wichmann Funeral Homes for this: Kathryn “Kathy” Mary Collins was born in 1950 in De Pere to the late Marian (Becker) and Don Lisch. She was one of the first members of the Green Bay Youth Symphony in 1966 as a
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