Yo-Yo Ma pulled his chair up making a slight scraping sound and then composer and fellow cellist Giovanni Sollima followed suit making a nearly identical scrape. Many in the audience giggled, because it seemed as though the repeated scrape sound signaled that the piece had already begun.
Looking back, it was the first sign that these two master cellists would perform like loving and close brothers, bringing to us a dazzling world premiere of a rare repertoire—“Antidotum Tarantulae XXI, Concerto for Two Cellos and Orchestra”.
The two cellists seemed to know each other’s musicality with great intimacy and throughout the performance this was a joy to behold. However, it was only a small part of the treat. The composition itself was a dazzling unfolding of the cello’s range woven in with orchestral highlights.
In the program notes the composer talks about the call of Italy’s story through time that informed his work. To others it may have seemed to start with songs of the desert, with sometimes mournful chords conversing from one cello to the next as if we were being called to prayers at nearby mosques.
Then the furies of the cello were unleashed, as if they were galloping and taking us with them on a chase. The orchestra joined in and we seemed to be at the center of a beehive. The pace changed many times, and we were often delighted to the tuba with some help from trombones delivering the transitions with loud bravado.
Not only cellos shone. At times this seemed just as much a concerto tour de force of percussion. We heard shifting sands, metallic bows across cymbals, low kettle drum rolls, a gong and more.
But it was always the cello’s range that sparkled. At one point the two cellists seemed to be playing the erhu, at another moment as they only plucked fingers or hit with bows they were percussion instruments, sounds would get larger and larger until the tuba referee or the natural end of the phrase instructed to move on.
The genius of this piece is not only in putting a spotlight on all that is cello, but in the masterful way that transitions were made from one moment to another. We can only hope that this piece is recorded by the CSO and these two soloists so that we can hear it again and again.
In his day he had to compete with the likes of Beethoven and ever since has been given somewhat short shrift, at least in US concert halls. Last night he was up against a world premiere of no small import.
Maestro Muti is giving Schubert his due, last night performing both the composer’s 3rd Symphony and his “Tragic” or 4th Symphony.
It is stunning to do the math and realize Schubert was but 18 and 19 when his pen or plume put these compositions to paper. They each start with a long slow chord and they both have many returns to building up a phrase, then dropping an octave or so and building again.
Having spent much of my morning listening to Schubert’s 3rd and 4th Symphonies after this concert I can see how much there is to chew on in Schubert’s work that Maestro Muti is bringing to our attention.
It was Muti’s idea also to bring Ma and Sollima together. Muti is a man of great inspiration and Chicago is now lucky to have his talents as part of our treasure trove. If you were there at the Millennium Park celebration several years ago waving pennants that said “Muti”, each concert reminds of what the celebration was about.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra will perform in Symphony Center (220 South Michigan Avenue) through June. If you would like information on tickets visit the CSO website or call 312- 294 – 3000.
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Photos: Todd Rosenberg