The phenomenal musicianship of double-bassist Edgar Meyer won him a host of new fans in his debut appearance as a guest soloist with the Utah Symphony last evening. Performing a Concerto for Bass and Orchestra which he composed himself, the versatile Meyer showed his knowledge of a wealth of musical styles and his uncanny ability to combine them in intriguing ways.
The bluesy opening bars plumbed the subterranean depths of his instrument's huge range and cued the audience in to the fact that they were in for a unique experience. It's not easy to pin down the style of Meyer's piece, but if you imagine an intersection of Bartok and Bluegrass, Copland and Celtic you might get the gist. That's not to say that the work is derivative - it's highly original, and the rigorous thematic development reveals a scholarly musical mind, paired with the soul of an All-American country boy. Furthermore, it's extremely difficult for both soloist and orchestra.Meyer's performance of the work revealed a rare mastery of his instrument, and the audience loved it. He kindly gave an encore (the 1st movement of the Bottesini Concerto in B minor) which revealed a more traditional side of his playing, and showed an amazing level of virtuosity coupled with a gorgeous tone. Meyer seemed to like his experience here as much as everyone liked him, telling me backstage that the Utah Symphony gave his composition the best playing it has had thus far.
After the excitement ignited by Meyer in the first half, the symphony returned to give an energized performance of Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, Op. 100. Conductor Joseph Silverstein handled the large symphonic forces masterfully, drawing forth a performance that never wavered in intensity.
The full orchestration and heart-wrenching dissonances of the first movement were played all-out, reaching a dramatic emotional crest. In the second movement, driving ostinatos and motoric rhythms were played with a combination of wit and gro-tesquerie that captured Prokofiev's style. A complex convergence of musical ideas brought the fourth movement to a thrilling close, with the brass section shining in one of their most prominent outings of the season.
The concert opened with Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Haydn (well, maybe - scholars disagree on the tune's origin). The orchestra gave a good reading of the piece with which Brahms made his mark as an orchestral composer, though the playing seemed a bit remote compared to the involvement shown in the later selections.