Shock and Awe

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Have you ever wondered what would happen if everyone on one side of the earth jumped into the air at exactly the same moment? If done repeatedly, the effect might be something like what a person sitting on Row F, seat 50 of the Gaillard Auditorium on Thursday night around 8:45 p.m. might have experienced, though not as hummable. Had Gaillard rafters, they would have been shaking. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that car alarms were going off en masse on Anson and George streets. The Spoleto Symphony

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Orchestra and Maestro Emmanuel Villaume lit into Gustav Mahler’s visceral Fifth Symphony this evening with a fury and a passion that I think surprised even them. The effect on the overwhelmingly white-coiffed patrons in the first few rows might have made a good Maxell ad. Dentures were doubtless loosed from their firmaments and uncounted pairs of super-absorbent protective underwear were tested mightily.

Thursday for Spoleto was another big day of premieres – dance from Bill T. Jones and ASzURe & Artists in addition to the big Festival Concert, not to mention the mid-series programs for both Chamber Music and Intermezzi. For those of us who make it our business to get to the opening nights of such things, this evening presented something of a conundrum. I chose to pass on the dance premieres, which I’ll get to this weekend, and instead see what Mahler had to say, according to M. Villaume.

It was a good choice. The crowd at the Gaillard wasn’t as thick as it was last year for Stravinsky’s urgent Rite of Spring – another gutshaker, as I recall – but they had at least a good a time. Villaume’s a natural dramatist; evidently he trained as an actor as well as a musician. Watching him conduct is like watching a prizefighter spar. After the first thunderous movement ended with a soft sigh of brass and tympani, he let his whole body sag, as if utterly drained by the incomprehensible emotional toll it had exacted on him, and either my imagination got the better of me or his knees wobbled. That, my friend, is showmanship. When it was finished, the audience jumped up as if it'd gotten an electric shock and applauded Villaume and the 100-plus virtuoso members of the Spoleto Symphony Orchestra as if their lives depended on it.

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