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January 19, 1999

"Heroes" is Bold Concert

A Review by Pat and Ernie Pinson

The second performance in the Mobile Symphony Series found everyone in rare form. All seemed to have their own jokes, from the opening remarks of the first lady of the University of South Alabama (a "refrain" is something forbidden) to maestro Butterman's witty remarks on Don Juan (Clinton's attorneys have missed the "pursuit of the ideal woman" in their argument), to Stravinsky's witticisms in The Firebird. And the audience loved it.

Playing music from an 80-year period around the turn of the century, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra presented bold portrayals of legendary heroes Friday night, January 8. Michael Butterman, conductor, explained and demonstrated the cast of characters in the music reminiscent of the Leonard Bernstein young people's concerts back in the 1950s. Between his commentary and the well-written program notes, the concert was a literary delight and a musical bon mot. Butterman was well suited to the idea of musical story since much of his conducting has been in opera, and his articulate descriptions were full of visual detail.

The program ranged from Wagnerian opera, to a 1944 film sound track, to a Stravinsky ballet. The William Walton film music Suite from Henry V was vivid in its action of Shakespearean England; Mr. Butterman called it musical onomatopoeia. However, the high point of the concert was the second half. Richard Strauss' tone poem Don Juan has one of the most difficult openings of any concert fare, but its precise delivery set the tone for the rest of the program. Syncopation and emphasis on all the tone colors an orchestra can produce were prevalent in both the Strauss and Stravinsky's Suite from The Firebird which followed. Particularly in the latter, the sound field seems to be made up of patches of color -- woodwinds, brass, horns -- which you have to stand back to grasp the whole picture, much like a pointillist painting. Instruments were often highlighted in short solos, each well in tune and very secure. Particularly noticeable was the excellent group of French horns, not an easy instrument to play to begin with, and these exposed solos were just about flawless.

The orchestra had many young players, and the playing was extraordinarily clean -- entrances sounded as if they were made by one instrument with many timbres. And the performance was the most musical that we've heard in a long time.

Praise also goes to the audience which was extremely attentive and responsive with Bravos at the end of the demanding and well executed program.

The Harbinger, P.O. Box U-980, Mobile, AL 36688-0001