Review: New work, Mahler’s First make for glorious evening
By Peter Jacobi
One can imagine the young composer thinking with trepidation, “They’re going to play my composition on a program with Mahler’s First?” Well, they did, and he needn’t have worried.
On Wednesday evening in the Musical Arts Center, the Indiana University Philharmonic performed Elliott Bark’s “Yook-I-O (6-5-2) Korean War Letters.” It preceded a reading of the Mahler symphony.
Both works were conducted by David Effron, who happens to have been Bark’s conducting teacher in the IU Jacobs School of Music and made sure to give his student’s work, winner of the 2013 Dean’s Prize, a thoroughly thought out and gripping performance, with the Philharmonic’s exceptional collaboration, of course.
On the whole, it was quite an evening: a new composition good enough to be heard again and a superbly crafted reading of Mahler’s glorious Symphony Number 1. The audience seemed to feast on the musical goodies, listening in restrained silence, then, after each item, exploding into unrestrained enthusiasm.
The title, “Yook-I-O,” says Bark, means six-two-five in Korean and represents June 25, the day in 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea — for his country, like Dec. 7 is for us, a day that lives in infamy. The composer collected six letters written home by American soldiers while experiencing that conflict. The letters express a wide range of topics and feelings: a response to a girlfriend’s breakup note; dreams of being home for a mom’s cooking; the description of a hill that “stinks something terrible all over with dead bodies”; an expression of needed faith, of God’s presence, “so near you can almost reach out and touch Him.”
The music those letters inspired is suggestive of their content: loud, abrasive, and timpani-punctuated for scenes of battle; nostalgic and warm for dreams; mournful for the tragedy of pain and loss. The orchestration is compelling, provocative, and fertile. Effron and the orchestra treated it with fervor and care.
As for the Mahler, Maestro Effron has made it known in words and deeds that he loves the man’s symphonies. And there could be no doubt that he conducted the First with love and depth of understanding. He used no score as he led his hundred young musicians through this hour-long score: the first movement depicting the dawn on tiptoes, then breaking into brilliant sunshine; the second, initially an audacious Austrian peasant dance, a landler, then a relaxed and attractive waltz; the third, a pronounced funeral march mixed with rambunctious bursts of Hassidic rhythms; the fourth an aurally massive, life/death-like struggle culminating in a climax that cannot but symbolize the at-least temporary victory and joy of life.
The Philharmonic invested its collective soul in the performance, meeting Effron’s every notion and motion with absolute confidence. The musicians and their conductor gave the symphony a reading technically outstanding and interpretively penetrating and impassioned. One could not have asked for more.
© Herald Times 2013