Saturday evening's Wichita Symphony performance, led by maestro Andrew Sewell in the Century II Concert Hall, brought together the work of two iconoclastic composers, Tracy Silverman and Gustav Mahler.
From the start, the hall was filled with an array of musical textures that may have moved listeners to ponder the nature and future of so-called classical music.
Composer Tracy Silverman is also a widely acclaimed violinist who challenges convention. His considerable musical abilities, coupled with his apparently inexhaustible curiosity and creativity, have taken him in many directions.
The concert began with the world premier of Silverman's "Between the Kiss and the Chaos," commissioned by the Wichita Symphony. This is Silverman's second concerto for electric violin and orchestra. It is a reckoning with the concept of artistic creation, and includes improvisatory elements for the soloist and conductor, the conductor determining many elements of the orchestra's performance beyond his normal latitude.
Sewell and the orchestra executed their duties quite ably; the percussion section deserves praise for its spirited playing. The violinist's part calls for many special techniques, manipulating the sound and incorporating a recording device to create loops of music to use as accompaniment.
While this is a fascinating process to witness, the technique leaves one feeling that the orchestra's resources are underutilized.
Silverman's "Anthem 25" was next on the program. Celebratory in nature, the work was commissioned for the 25th anniversary of an outdoor summer concert series presented by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and conveys the informal joviality of an outdoor gathering. The solo violin part conjured vivid scenes, and the orchestra skillfully produced the sonic backdrop called for.
The second half of the concert was devoted to Gustav Mahler's monumental Fifth Symphony. This work places great demands on each member of the orchestra.
The violin section, which so often creates shimmering unison sound with precision, occasionally seemed too challenged by the score to bring forth the beauty we are used to hearing. The winds communicated the passion of the piece powerfully, and in the solo passages one could imagine each musician's personal passion.
Principal horn Nicholas Smith was particularly compelling in the rendering of his solo lines, and tuba player Phillip Black should be commended for anchoring the brass section with richness and strength. In ensemble playing, the brass, like the upper strings, sometimes seemed overtaxed.
The technical concerns of the piece may have distracted Sewell from his interpretation, as elements of the performance were somewhat static.
The Wichita Symphony Orchestra is to be lauded for commissioning a new work that pushes the bounds of music for the concert hall, and the audience in Wichita should also be commended for its enthusiastic reception of new creativity.