Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Glacier Symphony Does Ode To Joy

Today I want to start out with a strong note. Take any note from Beethoven's Ode to Joy, and it will do. On Sunday, Diane and I got the wonderful opportunity to hear the Beethoven Ninth live, thanks to the generous and delightful company of our friend Joop, a fellow immigree in good standing here in Montana. The thing that amazes is this: Kalispell city has less than 17,000 residents and all Flathead County has but 87,000. And yet, right here, we find a symphony orchestra and chorale that, to put it mildly, is surprising. I came to Montana from California with certain preconceptions and prejudices, I must admit. Having raised our family in or near the cultural hubs of Monterey-Salinas and San Francisco, I came here expecting to find nothing culturally exciting; I thought I might be wandering into a wasteland. And yet, and yet ----- The Glacier Symphony and Chorale are here. Not only that, they contain a compliment of musicians whose passion for their art is clear and displayed in their performance. They also like a challenge. In the short time I have become aware of the orchestra, they have tackled as complex and emotionally difficult a piece as Sibelius' Fifth, and as demanding and full throated a masterpiece as the Ode to Joy. This last symphony, coupled with Beethoven's charming and often surprising First, was our first exposure to the Glacier Symphony, and we came away enthralled. Any live performance is better than none, and a good performance is better still. I have experienced the Monterey Symphony on numerous occasions, and found their performances as uneven as their conductors. Most of the time, I have loved what they did, but once in a while, especially under the laborious baton of one particular elder statesman of the conductor's guild whose name I have conveniently forgotten over time, that orchestra has fallen far short of what I felt I understood of the composer's intentions. Given that, acknowledging that the Monterey Symphony is a small venue orchestra, and seeing that the Glacier Symphony venue is less than a third of theirs, I had every reason to expect this new group would offer a noble attempt and I would laud them for that. Not so. Perhaps because their conductor, John Zoltek, has been their director for the past fourteen years, and because he is not in the least bit afraid to challenge his musicians, the Glacier Symphony is pretty damn good. You could not stack them up against San Francisco or New York, who have deeper resources from which to draw. But in a small venue, these people make a huge -- and joyful -- noise. Once again blessed and surprised by the diversity and excellence of this area, our home!

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