|Krzysztof Urbanski: Star-gazimg through music.|
In 1968, when Stanley Kubrick's film was new, 2001 seemed a visionary benchmark in human progress. Looking back today, the year is more darkly associated with the events of Sept. 11.
Urbanski said last spring when announcing the 2015-16 season at Hilbert Circle Theatre that, since boyhood, he has been "inspired by the cosmos, the stars, and astronomy." He also praised "2001: A Space Odyssey" in terms he echoed in remarks from the podium Friday night. "It's one of the greatest movies I've ever seen — a very philosophical movie."
Thus, the festival was appropriately capped by music Kubrick used for his cinematic inquiry into human origins and development, as seen from a universal perspective. The centerpiece had to be "Also sprach Zarathustra," Richard Strauss' interpretation of Friedrich Nietzsche's tortured examination of human destiny and purpose, as reflected in the legendary religious figure Zoroaster.
|Poster for a pathbreaking movie|
The ISO's performance moved from that noble beginning with great clarity in all the work's episodes, depicting the hero as a representative human quester over his proper place in the universe. The ongoing struggle with nature ends equivocally, with an unresolved contention between the pitches C and B. Particularly effective episodes were the slow fugue, beginning in the lower strings, and the "Dance Song" portion with the composer's buoyant gift for personalizing the Viennese waltz. Solos were brought off with idiomatic zest, none more so than concertmaster Zach De Pue's.
"Also sprach Zarathustra" inspired the young Bela Bartok on a compositional career that became one of the 20th century's most significant. A later Hungarian composer, Gyorgy Ligeti, wrote "Atmospheres" in perhaps his most extreme exploration of breaking down the symphony orchestra into its constituent parts and recombining it. Everyone in the large orchestra has something distinctive to contribute, and the piece, with its keen gradations of dynamics and slow-motion, evolving sonorities, came off impressively Friday night.
The strings were featured in mildly modernist lyricism of Aram Khachaturian's "Gayane's Adagio" from the ballet "Gayane," given a poised yet intense reading. The first half concluded with a display of the most enduring succession of waltz melodies in a single work, Johann Strauss Jr.'s "On the Beautiful Blue Danube." If the Danube River, at least as it flows through Vienna, is less blue and beautiful than it once was, it retains those pristine qualities in this music. Under Urbanski's guiding hand, tempo fluctuations and the balance of both lingering and forward motion were exquisitely brought off in Friday's performance.
This is a program with a vast expressive and technical range, befitting its connection to a movie best described by a vogue word of its time: mind-blowing. It was played in that spirit, and it brought with it particular insights into what makes Krzysztof Urbanski tick.