Spokane Symphony Orchestra Saturday, Aug. 19, at The Festival at Sandpoint
Six young conductors from the Schweitzer Institute of Music led the Spokane Symphony Orchestra in the finale of this year’s Festival at Sandpoint. Saturday’s concert at Memorial Field showed what can be learned about the craft of conducting and some things about the art of conducting, as well.
The conductors were aided in their task by some of the festival’s best weather - a crisp, clear evening - and by a responsive orchestra. The concert’s only distractions were the rumble of no fewer than five passing freight trains (something of a tradition at Festival at Sandpoint concerts) and the musical piping of young osprey in the nest above the outdoor stage.
The familiar overtures and symphonies by Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert on Saturday’s program offer conductors no place to hide. The theatrical posturing so beloved of maestros bent on impressing an audience proves useless. Neither flailing gestures nor balletic leaps help a conductor reveal classic eloquence and drama the way thorough knowledge and restraint can.
Barney Blough, a three-year veteran of the Schweitzer conducting program, began the evening with a cool, reserved performance of Schubert’s “Rosamunde” Overture. Blough deftly handled the overture’s tempo changes, and he followed Schubert’s request for soft passages even though the ambient noise at Memorial Field rendered such passages inaudible.
Mozart’s “Little” G minor Symphony is known to movie goers as the music for the stormy opening scene of “Amadeus.” Though this symphony is often cited as an example of Mozart’s “storm and stress” style, Robert Franz led a light, fleet performance that was stronger on classic elegance than on drama. The same inclination to understatement was found in Scott Terrell’s conducting in Mozart’s Overture to “Don Giovanni.”
Howard Rappaport extracted the drama in Beethoven’s Overture to “Egmont,” but he sometimes allowed the tempo to accelerate when Beethoven didn’t ask for it.
Anthony Quartuccio and George Mathew shared the podium for Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8, Quartuccio conducting the first two movements and Mathew, the minuet and finale. Though they both had a keen sense of Beethoven’s humor and vigor, the two conductors represented very different conducting styles. Quartuccio’s abrupt gestures sometimes produced a constricted tone from the orchestra. Mathew used tiny movements and seemed shy about using his left hand, but the result was impressive.
For three weeks these six conductors, all in their 20s and early 30s, have been studying with Gunther Schuller, whose twin mottos are: “Know every note of the music you conduct, not only what it is, but why it’s there,” and “Get the maximum effect with the minimum of motion.”
The six conductors learned those lessons well.