SBSO Continues To Produce In Pandemic

Reviewer: Alexander 'CBXTN' Verdoni The Fig

Venue: The Temple Theatre Online

Dvorak, Vivaldi, Piazzolla, Grieg – these composers were the “Sultans of Strings” as declared by the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra, when they performed their works on February 13. The luscious string music was respectfully interpreted by our stellar musicians under the guide of conductor, Fouad Fakhouri. He introduced every piece with thoughtful history and context. And though I could attempt to describe the thematic pairing of Vivaldi’s stark and decadent first movement of Winter with an arrangement of Piazzolla’s sexy, sentimental Invierno Porteño (passionately executed by soloist and concertmaster, Eliot Heaton), or the light and easy melodies of Dvorak’s serenade and Grieg’s dance suite, or the beads of sweat glistening from the foreheads of our dedicated cellists, I think it’d be best to pause and congratulate our symphony for its 85th season. And what a difficult season it is.  

Beginning as a project in 1935 through the Saginaw Department of Parks and Recreation, the SBSO has brought us decades of symphonic music for the community. With memorable conductors such as Josef Chemiavsky, who brought Hollywood glitz back in the 1950s, to the playful Leo Najar who was unafraid to ruffle feathers with contemporary music, to the energetic Patrick Flynn, who revamped the symphony orchestra with vivacious public concerts, we have seen the orchestra move as colorfully as the harmonies of Debussy. With the difficulties of a looming virus, it is still a gift that SBSO is keeping the community engaged with orchestral music. With this, we give thanks!

The grasp of this milestone is not just a cause of celebration, but should also be a moment of reflection. As the season finishes (with the final concert planned for May 15th), where does the symphony go from here? Will the symphony return to normal when we emerge from our “social-distancing” cocoons? Will the symphony want to return to normal or will it strike out on a new path? How can SBSO continue to impact the community in a real, visceral way? Who will be SBSO’s audience 15 years from now? This shouldn’t be a discussion for just the symphony board of directors – this is an important discussion for our city as a whole, because this is our symphony. 

SBSO’s 85th season has been celebrated with safety in mind. “Sultans of Strings” was a safe concert. Our musicians played with masks in order to keep safe from potential viral infection. The pre-recorded video was a safe choice for the Symphony Orchestra, allowing them to produce a more visually appealing video and select the best takes. The repertoire chosen was a safe selection of comfortable music. Our few concerts from the 2020-2021 is marked with such safety. Indeed, we need some comfortable music, something relaxing to give much needed respite to today’s mania.  

But, ah, when we eventually emerge from our cocoons, will we still crave safety? No – at least I do not. I want risk-taking. I want newness. I want fresh air and debate and interactivity. After being locked away from each other this past year, we crave interactivity. As a citizen of Saginaw, I must say; it’d be awesome to hear music written by local composers, maybe even students in SVSU’s music department. It’d be awesome to hear genres outside the standard repertoire. It’d be awesome to hear outrageously bad music – because, even through “bad” music, we enter an interactivity of debate and learning. 

I do not know the path ahead for our city’s symphony orchestra, but I do hope that they’ll emerge from this time of indoor, masked-up air with a taste for fresh music. Perhaps, even, dangerous music.

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