What better way to celebrate Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s birthday than with a performance by one of the Kansas City Symphony’s most valued players? Principal flute Michael Gordon played Flute Concert no. 1 with finesse and precision, part of the lively, enthusiastic program in Helzberg Hall on Friday for a performance of renewal, some growing pains and promise.
Music director Michael Stern returned to the podium for the first time this year, leading the orchestra with his signature vim on excerpts from Michael Gandolfi’s “The Garden of Cosmic Speculation” and Robert Schumann’s Symphony no. 1, “Spring.”
Gandolfi’s piece was inspired by the physical “Garden of Cosmic Speculation,” a magnificent 30-acre landscaped masterwork in Scotland which conveys scientific concepts. Insistent strings, combatant brass and a smattering of winds entrances like refracted light served a forceful, if messy, rendition. Excitement commanded dynamics, unfortunately, the performance too loud most of the time, without enough room for growth or to explore texture, covering inner voices and timbral nuance.
There were fine moments, many, in fact: the piano ostinato layered with percussion and winds, a raucous flutter-tongued crescendo that released into harp, clave and bells, the cello solo overtop sobbing violins, and a solemn moment from basses, bells, and brass.
Off-stage had its issues, too. The effect of recorded birdsong was ruined by coughing in the hall and by those who valued more the sound of their own hands smacking together.
Still, a commendation is necessary for programming a work that challenges, and thus expands, both the orchestra’s and audience’s mindset. It wasn’t poorly performed, but it could have been better performed.
Mozart’s concerto is a standard of the literature and Gordon did it justice, his amber tone sweetly trilling with ease over the mechanics of the line. It was straight-forward Mozart, with Gordon illuminating the beauty and grace of the writing. The chamber orchestra, despite some flubbed phrases, gave him full support in an uplifting performance, awarded with hearty applause from the standing audience.
Schumann preempted Walt Whitman’s “barbaric yawp” with this dense and sturdy celebration of Spring. Fanfares, ascending lines and tutti statements swept along with exuberance, followed by the yearning intensity of the Larghetto, capped by the trombone chorale. As though dancing in hobnailed boots, the theme of the third movement was solid, rooted, yet energetic. A tremendous crescendo served the start of the final movement, heralding sprightly melodies transferred organically between voices, interrupted by emphatic statements resisting the fear and dark of Winter.