Last Saturday's Visions Cinématiques program at the Gaillard — the latest in the Charleston Symphony's Masterworks series — offered a feast of incredibly colorful and evocative music, plus the welcome chance to hear concertmaster Yuriy Bekker perform his first major concerto gig with his colleagues.
The Hungarian master György Ligeti left his stamp on 20th-century music in many ways, beginning with the use of his other-worldly Atmospheres in Stanley Kubrick's landmark film, 2001: A Space Oddysey. Likewise, Lontano is a work that achieves its sense of eerie, cosmic mystery without melody or rhythm. Conductor David Stahl and his orchestra gave it a shimmering rendition that enthralled the near-capacity crowd.
Then it was on to the music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, a composer whose reputation rests mainly on his rich, swashbuckling movie music — from films like The Sea Hawk and The Adventures of Robin Hood. His only violin concerto is a neo-Romantic extravaganza of epic sweep that borrows from several of his Hollywood scores. Despite its cinematic effect, Jascha Heifetz — the great violinist who first performed it — evaluated it as "more gold than korn."
And our esteemed Concertmaster certainly squeezed every last drop of musical gold out of the opulent score. The solo violin part rests rather high in the instrument's range — probably because its lower notes would be hard to hear over the big, juicy orchestra that the composer calls for. And not too many violinists can stay in the stratosphere like that without sounding thin or screechy. But Bekker's sweet and singing tone never stopped soaring dreamily over his colleagues' lush palette of supporting sound.
After halftime, we got to revel in French genius Hector Berlioz's ever-amazing Symphonie Fantastique — an overwhelming sonic spectacle that's probably the first musical realization of a drug trip gone bad.
Loosely reflecting his own infatuation with an English actress, the symphony's five movements portray manic-depressive episodes in the "life of an artist," ending with horrific opium-induced visions of his own execution and damnation after he has murdered his beloved.
Stahl and company took us on a thrilling musical roller-coaster ride that captured Berlioz's quirky writing perfectly, while bringing out all of the music's brilliant colors and effects. A fearsome challenge to even the best big-city bands, it was gratifying to hear our own orchestra play it so well. The roof-raising ovation brought more solo and section bows than I have room to recount. —Lindsay Koob