The USC Thornton Symphony performed music inspired by the world of dance Friday evening in Bovard Auditorium, as part of their “Dance as Music” concert. Led by resident conductor Sharon Lavery, the orchestra performed Igor Stravinsky’s “Petrushka” and Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero.”
Stravinsky’s composed his ballet “Petrushhka” following his successful and well-recognized ballet “The Firebird.” Perhaps one of his slightly lesser-known works in the shadows of “The Rite of Spring” and “The Firebird.” If there is anything that would identify Stravinsky it was his drive to be untraditional and to break musical boundaries. Stravinsky’s “Petrushhka” follows the same signature tell tale signs that undoubtedly make it Stravinsky.
“Petrushhka” opened with a dissonant soundscape. Expressing the characteristics of Stravinsky’s modernist lack of harmony, the symphony was able to precisely pin down the style of Stravinsky in the piece. Often more demanding than Stravinsky’s typical melody-based pieces, “Petrushka” is highlighted by a winding path of musical motifs and untraditional lack of familiar recurring themes. Stravinsky’s work is easily handled by the orchestra’s technical proficiencies. The attention to detail in the highly detailed score shows the high level of musicianship and proficiency for the symphony musicians. They were able to make very principled efforts out of Stravinsky’s jumbled mess. Detailed solos throughout the piece were able to balance well with the fabric of the piece.
Ravels “Bolero,” based on a single theme repeated and manipulated throughout, like many fine crafts, cannot be quickly performed. What was considered a rather garish ballet piece by critics to the restrained world of classical music, “Bolero” can become a carefully performed spectacle or bloated mess. The Thornton Symphony musicians seemed to understand the underlying balance and musical phrasing required to make the performance a successful one.
The piece started with a subtle opening with careful execution of the main theme by the flute and clarinet sections. As the piece progressed, the various sections of the orchestra entered with perfect balance and phrasing. The piece especially highlighted the orchestra’s ability to balance and comprehend both the large themes and subtlety of the details. The piece gained more energy and emotion at exactly the right points in the piece.
Ravel looked upon “Bolero” as an experimentation and a piece with little effect on the greater world of serious music. However, it is probably safe to say that even seemingly simple pieces can have large meanings. The performance was the ultimate “less is more” showcase, executed by an orchestra which understood, and not simply performed, Bolero’s musical concepts well.
The Thornton Symphony’s next performance will be Oct. 14 at 7:30 p.m. in Bovard Auditorium. The “New Music for Orchestra” concert will showcase new orchestral works by Thornton student composers.