Before the Mozart began, Stutzmann dedicated the performance to Ukraine, saying from the stage that “it seems timely to be performing a requiem now both for those we have lost during the pandemic and for those who are losing their lives in Ukraine.” Then the first full ensemble chord of the Ukrainian national anthem, held aloft by 150-odd voices, resounded in a thrilling forte for a supremely emotional moment.
The ASO opened the concert with “Death and Transfiguration,” Richard Strauss’ stirring tone poem about the great beyond, last heard in Symphony Hall nearly a decade ago. With broad, sweeping gestures, Stutzmann allowed the orchestra to ring out, fully embrace the melancholy at the root of the piece. First introduced by a solitary flute, the tentatively singing theme was passed around the orchestra, moving organically from section to section as the orchestra played with precision and passion.
The Strauss work changes direction often, sometimes in very quick succession. Toward the end of the 25-minute composition, Stutzmann bent down, looking pointedly at the bass section as she fluttered her fingers in rapid succession. The basses responded with a soft but focused tremolo. Seconds later, the low strings broke free with a feverish intensity at her direction, devilishly delivering a sinister theme.
It’s apparent the conductor, who has a storied career as a sublime contralto, worked hard with the chorus. She had a beautiful foundation on which to build, as director of choruses Norman Mackenzie has diligently echoed Robert Shaw’s groundwork. Still, it was hard to know just what to expect for Stutzmann’s first performance with the chorus. Now I know definitively that her choral programs are not to be missed.
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Additional performances 8 p.m. March 18 and 3 p.m. March 20. $45-110. Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-733-5000, atlantasymphony.org.