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Friday, October 20, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Symphony performance celebrates Copland and Weill

Special to The Seattle Times

Music review

Members of the Seattle Symphony, conducted by Alastair Willis, last Wednesday night at the Nordstrom Recital Hall of Benaroya Hall.

The first installment of the Seattle Symphony's "Music of Our Time" series was a double centennial, celebrating American composer Aaron Copland and German composer Kurt Weill, both of whom straddled traditional and popular music.

It should also be viewed as a triumph for newly appointed assistant conductor Alastair Willis, who waved a precise and powerful baton.

The first work on the program demonstrated just such power, with a terrifically conducted suite Copland created from his own film scores, including "The City," "Of Mice and Men" and "Our Town." The orchestra, though reduced in size, filled the small hall with such sound it felt like it would burst deliciously.

Next came Copland's two-movement Clarinet Concerto, originally written for Benny Goodman, which was performed in this same space only months ago by David Shifrin and the Northwest Chamber Orchestra.

Seattle's own Laura DeLuca was the soloist this time, and while her stage presence is much more reserved than Shifrin's, her performance was plenty warm and musically expressive. Her technique was merely excellent; she has played better on other nights.

She certainly nailed the ending of this incredibly difficult piece, however, and with such a flourish that the enthusiastic applause just seemed the inevitable response.

The third and final Copland work of the evening was his Nonet, a chamber work for (as the title gives away) nine instruments, those being three each of violins, violas and cellos.

Copland wrote this work in 1960, relatively late in his career, which partly explains why it is the least accessible musically. Still, the piece is remarkable for its multi threaded complexity, and provided a good contrast for the Weill that followed.

The nine separate lines also presented a challenge for conductor Willis, who showed remarkable control throughout.

Dripping with cabaret ambiance is Kurt Weill's Suite from "The Threepenny Opera," his first and most famous collaboration with poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht. In Weill's own opinion, his music was not for posterity, but only for his day; in that sense, he was the ultimate pop musician. Perhaps he would be surprised that his most popular tune, "Mack the Knife," has lasting value to succeeding generations.

But no matter. Arranged by the composer for an ensemble that included no members of the violin family, but does include a banjo and an accordion, this is not a typical Seattle Symphony piece. The performance of it was energetic and lively; these musicians should play such decadent Weimar music more often.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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