CONTRA COSTA TIMES
April 20, 2006
GEORGIA ROWE: CLASSICAL NOTES
'New Day Rising' built to last. Wind Symphony's performance of world-premiere work explores 1906 S.F. with grace and gravitas.
By Georgia Rowe
This week's 100th anniversary of the 1906 earthquake inspired an array of events commemorating San Francisco's biggest disaster. But the Contra Costa Wind Symphony may have offered the newest -- and most colorful -- musical tribute of all. The centerpiece of the orchestra's concert Tuesday evening at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek was the world premiere of Steven Reineke's Symphony No. 1, "New Day Rising," which depicts the city, the earthquake and its aftermath in four bracingly evocative movements.
Commissioned by the Wind Symphony, the new work was introduced by James Dalessandro (author of the novel "1906") and conducted by Reineke in an engaging first performance. Reineke, the Cincinnati-based composer and conductor who works with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra (he's a protege of the great Erich Kunzel), may not spend much time in San Francisco. But he seems to be on intimate terms with the city -- at least as it existed in 1906.
Like all good musical dramatists, he takes his time establishing a sense of place, era and atmosphere before getting to the Big Jolt. The symphony's first and second movements are portraits of San Francisco the day and evening before the earthquake. The first movement, "City of Gold," employs bustling woodwinds and mellow brass to suggest the thriving, prosperous city by day. A piano (crisply played by Nancy Rude) introduces the nostalgic sounds of a ragtime song.
The second movement, "Nocturne," paints a beguiling nighttime portrait of the city. The music is serene, with a lovely theme for clarinets and harp. In a nod to the great tenor Caruso -- who was in San Francisco that night, appearing in Bizet's "Carmen" -- Reineke borrows a quote from Micaela's aria in Act III of the opera. Principal clarinetist John Pangia was the able soloist.
Disaster strikes in the third movement, titled "And the Earth Trembled." The music starts with low, indistinct rumblings, then seems to break wide open. High, urgent cries from the woodwinds, slashing horn parts and an all-out assault by the percussion section represent the earthquake itself; in the aftermath, an Ivesian march signals the advent of martial law. The finale, "New Day Rising," recalls an impromptu church service in Golden Gate Park, with strains of hymns yielding to a cautiously optimistic coda.
Reineke doesn't break new musical ground with the symphony. The composer wears his influences on his sleeve, and throughout the 40-minute performance, one could hear shades of Bernstein, Bernard Herrmann, the aforementioned Ives, even Copland. But the score is attractive, beautifully textured and built to endure. Under the composer's energetic direction, the four movements cohered in a graceful dramatic arc.
The Wind Symphony's music director and principal conductor, Duane Carroll, was on the podium for the concert's first half, which featured a dynamic performance of "Wings" by Dutch composer Piet Swerts. Pianist Keenan Boswell was the excellent soloist.
The program began with Maxime Aulio's "Whispering Wind," and ended with a sing-along to "San Francisco," the title song from the MGM classic movie.