Seattle Symphony: Delta Air Lines Masterworks Presents ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’

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Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conductor

Augustin Hadelich, violin

Esteban Benzecry: Colores de la Cruz del Sur

Attending the Symphony is a magical and deeply moving experience.  To be able to concentrate and let classical music envelop you in its most pure form was a luxury.  It should be something everyone should experience once in their life.

The three compositions included in the program of ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ are markedly different in sound and style, and their music suggests different sorts of experiences. Colores de la Cruz del Sur (“Colors of the Southern Cross”), by the Argentine composer Esteban Benzecry, is a kind of travelogue through South America, though the places and scenes the composer describes in his music have perhaps more to do with his imagination than with observed reality. Felix Mendelssohn’s famous Violin Concerto makes no attempt to convey anything so specific. But from its impassioned opening through its exquisite slow movement to its buoyant finale, there seems a dreamlike quality to much of this music.

Modest Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ is a visionary composition in two senses of the word. First, as much as music can do such a thing, it translates into sound images from drawings and paintings, a process that relies on what we can only call a keen sense of musical vision. No less impressive, it creates these impressions through quite novel harmonies and aural textures, sounds that Mussorgsky evidently created solely for this purpose. Plagued by alcoholism, Mussorgsky led a chaotic life and did not achieve all that he might have. But at his best, as he is in Pictures, he deserves to be called a visionary composer.


ESTEBAN BENZECRY Colores de la Cruz del Sur

Travelling solo in Seattle offered my mind so many opportunities to check out and inhale in some new energy.  I appreciated that the ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ began with a musical tour to South America, a voyage not only through different regions of the continent but to diverse cultures, both ancient and modern. The sounds of this journey are exceptionally colorful, sensuous and vibrant.  It felt like a musical painting was being brought to life without the traditional classical charm.

There were moments I was soaring high above the plains of South America in a National Geographic film.  It was such a lucid experience to see and feel the music at the hands of the Seattle Symphony’s musicians.

Portraiture of  Peruvian mountains, sightings of the stars in their full splendor,  the wind in the frozen desert, glaciers breaking and sudden interruptions of the wind and birds and imaginary folk dances culminated into what Benzecry describes as “sounds of an imaginary magical forest, with its birds, and the shining stars are seen through the tree leaves.”

The musical installment was visceral and gave me room to ponder walking in the woods in Portland just a few days before.  Alone, reflecting on how lucky I am to be in such natural splendour and to have the time, opportunity and resources to enjoy myself.   I found Benzecry ‘Colores de la Cruz del Sur’ highlighted my blessings and illustrated my travel journey.

FELIX MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64

The 19th century produced five great concertos for the violin, those of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Bruch, Tchaikovsky and Brahms. Each of these works has its virtues. But Mendelssohn’s is probably the most popular, this for its winning melodiousness and sheer sonic beauty.

Mendelssohn’s musical installment was far more emotional.  I found myself walking around museums and galleries on this trip and immersing myself in beautiful art which I only seem to indulge upon when I am on vacation.  It’s the only time I have time.  It made me think…what else don’t I have time for?

This experience encouraged me to consider what comes next.  The gentle nod although blanketed in serene woodwinds was also dramatic enough to soothe my fearful heart of what has been holding me back. I have beautiful talents that are locked away that need to see the light of day again.

Upon observation of the full orchestral team, I got a sense that the woodwinds are the most underrated of the team.  They were powerful in evoking such an emotional attachment when listening to their epic sound.  What underrated qualities of mine are worth showcasing?

MODEST MUSSORGSKY / orch. Ravel, Pictures at an Exhibition

Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto belongs to the mainstream of 19th-century Romanticism in music. By contrast, Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition stands at that movement’s edge. Stirring, haunting, frightening, amusing and at times astonishing, it is above all inspired and utterly original.

This segment I found far more haunting and full of deep romantic intent.  I wondered about the portraiture of my year.  I felt the energy flowing through me.  It felt therapeutic but also startling.  This year has had its ups and downs but also moments where I was struck with my own growth.  The vigour of the music had enough force that it knocked out the stones that have been weighing me down for some time.  The power of letting go in that moment was tangible.

The biggest draw for me to attend the Seattle Symphony was to see the acclaimed violinist Augustin Hadelich perform Mendelssohn’s gem of the repertoire in ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ along with the stellar Seattle Symphony.  The talent in such a small space was awe inspiring.  It’s hard to believe that such beauty can come out of wood and brass instruments at the hands of someone like you or I.  There were members of the audience who felt the full intent of the performance and were not afraid to scream out passionately ‘Bravo’ and ‘Yes!’ upon the conclusion of each piece.

The space at Benaroya Hall where the Seattle Symphony calls home is even more decadent.  It was truly the dulce de leche of my evening.  Before the performance had commenced I felt like I was being prepared for an evening of swooning.  From the Dale Chihuly chandelier piece in the front entrance of Benaroya Hall, to the rich woods and open space.  I felt like I was in nature.  As the music washed over our senses I could observe people transfixed in the glow of the space.  It was a riveting experience.

The lovely warm wood, high ceilings, chairs that were easy to sink into and have your mind, body and senses give into the experience.  From the ambiance,  the formidable musicians and their musicianship – the Seattle Symphony is indeed offering you more than just a musical experience on a night out.

The Seattle Symphony’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ was a treat and highlighted moments in my trip to both Portland and Seattle this Fall.  The symphony was on a journey and so was I.  A perfect piece for my travel reflection.

I am finding as I am aging I am seeking out new forms of art and music that speaks to my life experiences, successes and hurdles.   It’s about setting the bar high so you can reflect back on your journey and come to some tough conclusions around what is working and not working in your life.  I encourage you to submit to the music at the Seattle Symphony and observe what your mind and body chooses to ‘breathe in’ in return.

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