Saturday, April 21, 2018
Stage

'Rock star' bassoonist adds cheery tone to Florida Orchestra performance

Bet you didn't know bassoonists could be rock stars.

It certainly sounded that way when a cluster of fans whistled and wooted as Anthony Georgeson took the stage at the Florida Orchestra's masterworks concert Friday night.

Turns out they were a collection of family and friends, but no matter. They introduced a cheeriness to the atmosphere that mirrored the amiable bonhomie of Georgeson's playing. The orchestra's principal bassoonist since 2007, Georgeson performed Mozart's Bassoon Concerto, one of the most distinctive pieces in classical music.

The concerto so thoroughly explores the nature of the instrument that a listener can't help being captivated. It also requires virtuoso technique from the performer. Georgeson's articulation of breath seemed effortless as he brought personality to the music's rapid arpeggios, jumps, trills and runs.

Whether it was the playfulness of the first and third movements, or the more leisurely stroll of the second with its long legato lines, Georgeson played with real soul. Indeed, at times he looked liked a jazz saxophonist as he bent his knees and waist in sympathy with the music.

As he acknowledged the enthusiastic applause afterward, his very young daughter Lilianna brought him a colorful bouquet of spring flowers, then ran back to her mother, Erin, at the edge of the stage. Dad seemed both surprised and moved. He soon joined them, swooped his daughter up with a kiss and a hug, and finished his bows from there.

Nothing stuffy about it.

The evening's largest piece was Gustav Holst's The Planets, written between 1914 and 1917, and a favorite of dreamers, stargazers and stoners ever since. Holst's genius was to absorb many of the thorny innovations of early 20th century music into a harmonious, expansive and accessible whole. His survey of the planets — their astrological personalities, not the Roman mythology from which they got their names — employs a huge variety of musical textures and effects, and the orchestra, under the baton of guest conductor Marcelo Lehninger, conveyed them masterfully.

Stunning photos of the planets, taken by Voyager 1 during its unprecedented journey past the edges of our solar system, were projected on a screen over the stage. At first, I thought this might be distracting, especially since the physical nature of the planets wasn't what was on Holst's mind. But their otherworldliness actually brought fresh prompts to my imagination, to which I'm sure the composer would not object.

Looking at large, boil-like craters on the surface of Mars ("The Bringer of War"), for example, I thought of a new adjective to describe the ominous, monumental, irresistibly pounding effusiveness of the opening segment. It is volcanic. (And no, I wasn't smoking anything.)

More peaceful portraits, as of the planets Venus, Saturn and Pluto ("The Bringer of Peace"; "The Bringer of Old Age," and "The Mystic") showed off the orchestra's burnished tone and quiet percussive skills, evoking mystery and suspense.

My favorite part has always been Jupiter ("the Bringer of Jollity"), in which Holst overlays the playful syncopation of a dance with one of those sweeping hymns that can only be British: soaring melody and moving bass lines that speak of grandeur.

The sine-wave cycling of the ethereal wind section and an offstage female chorus in the closing section of Pluto sent me into the night believing that, like Voyager 1 on Aug. 25, 2012, I really had been transported into the vastness of interstellar space.

Samuel Barber's Overture to The School for Scandal, which opened the program, was moving in its chorale sections. But the orchestra's rendition of its fast and competing irregular rhythms lacked focus.

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