Utah Arts Review »Blog Archive» Bergmann conducts the Utah Symphony in the mighty Nielsen

Rune Bergmann conducted the Utah Symphony in Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4 “Inextinguishable” Friday night at Abravanel Hall. Photo: Kathleen Sykes

Danish composer Carl Nielsen “had a lot of frustration” about the state of the world in 1916, Rune Bergmann told listeners as he took the stage in the Abravanel Hall on Friday night. The Norwegian conductor felt that the audience could relate, “coming out of a very difficult situation”.

Nielsen’s response was to celebrate the will to live in his Symphony No. 4, dubbed “Inextinguishable,” and the serious performance of the Utah Symphony under Bergmann’s conduct has provided a bit of catharsis for his 21st century audience.

Bergmann, who avoids catwalks because he’s about a head taller than most conductors, has brought infectious enthusiasm to the job. The “Inextinguishable” opens with a loud roar, and the orchestra leans vigorously before Bergmann gracefully lowers the sound.

Throughout the evening, musicians responded attentively to the precise baton and expressive technique of the conductor’s left hand. This symphony is characterized by turbulence, including several extreme changes in mood and dynamics. Some of Friday’s transitions were subtle – like the heartbeat of the timpani ushering in the lovely, gentle woodland choir that makes up most of the second movement. Other moments, especially the start of the third movement, felt like flipping a switch as color flooded the orchestra.

But the climax, unsurprisingly, was the thrilling battle of timpani that dominates the symphony’s finale. Even for listeners unaware that Principal Timpanist George Brown and Principal Associate Eric Hopkins were playing newts, the effect was intense and powerful. (The fact that Brown joined the orchestra before Hopkins was born also had symbolic weight in this musical embodiment of the life force.)

Stephen Hough was the soloist in Brahms Piano Concerto No.1 on Friday Night. Photo: Kathleen Sykes

Soloist Stephen Hough has teamed up with Bergmann and the orchestra in Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1. It’s always a pleasure to hear Hough’s musical intelligence at work, and this great concerto was an excellent vehicle, showing the British pianist’s skill in balancing strength and delicacy. Each note recorded clearly, no matter how heavy the orchestration was behind it. And Hough summoned a lot of musical power whenever the score called for it.

Because music director Thierry Fischer nears the end of his contract and the names of potential replacements are closely watched, most music lovers in Salt Lake City assume any conductor who appears at Abravanel Hall could be a candidate. Bergmann already holds conductor positions in Canada, Poland and Switzerland, but he seemed to conquer the crowds and paid homage to each section of the orchestra in the standing ovation that followed Nielsen’s symphony.

The program will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in the Abravanel room. utahsymphony.org

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