Can the essence of a country's musical output be portrayed in a two-hour concert? Of course not, though Thursday, with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's first of three concerts marketed as French theme nights, the ASO nonetheless presented a suitable introduction to two of France's cherished classical masters.
Under the baton of frequent guest conductor Jun Markl, the first half of the night's concert — which featured the "Benvenuto Cellini" Overture by Berlioz and Violin Concerto No. 5 by Vieuxtemps — seemed geared to lead up to the post-intermission main event. An evocative and compelling reading of the complete Ravel ballet "Daphnis et Chloe" took up the second half of the program. The ensemble isn't unfamiliar with the work — Music Director Robert Spano led the orchestra in a suite from the ballet in 2014, and in 2008 took the symphony and the ASO Chorus to Carnegie Hall in New York for a performance that included the work's vocal section — but hearing the ballet in its entirety felt like a spectacle.
Markl helped the orchestra create a work that easily stood on its own. The narrative work begins with a quiet, ethereal awakening played with anticipation but restraint by the orchestra. The ASO’s emotional performance — tender and severe, forceful and comforting — made it seem like the inclusion of ballet dancers, or even the chorus, would have been superfluous. The ASO presents another Ravel ballet in March, along with a more contemporary piece with assistance from the movement artists that make up Glo.
In his debut with the ASO, violinist Giora Schmidt gave an impressive technical performance of the bravura Vieuxtemps concerto, mixing moments of sweet sentimentality into the dazzling, and dizzying, spectacle. In three movements played without pause, Schmidt’s confident, resonant violin tone never wavered.
Thursday night’s event, and each subsequent country-themed event presented this season, can serve as a mini mixtape of a nation’s key composers — kind of. The first French show, which included an invigorating violin concerto written by a Belgian, started slow and ended with the magnificence of Ravel’s ballet. Subsequent French-themed outings will follow suit. Guest conductor Lionel Bringuier will bring back Ravel, along with two famous Russians, to the ASO stage in May. Later that month, principal guest conductor Donald Runnicles will take the podium for a truly all-French program of Debussy, Milhaud and Canteloube. Runnicles, of course, has come down to Atlanta to present all-French programs often.
There are all-Russian nights and all-Spanish nights to come, though these programs also take liberties. These could either be viewed as a marketing presentation or simply musical explorations in globalization to remind audiences that the world of classical music knows no walls or borders.
8 p.m. Oct. 12. $28-$55. Bailey Performance Center, Kennesaw State University, 488 Prillaman Way, Kennesaw.
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