Danzmayr makes admirable podium debut with Grant Park Orchestra

Sat Jul 28, 2018 at 10:34 am

By Tim Sawyier

David Danzmayr conducted the Grant Park Orchestra in music of Vaughan Williams, Andrew Norman and Mendelssohn Friday night at the Pritzker Pavilion. Photo: Norman Timonera

David Danzmayr was music director of the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra from 2012 to 2016. The southwest suburban orchestra made leaps and bounds during Danzmayr’s brief tenure with them, the ensemble’s impressive development a testament to Danzmayr’s energies and capacity for orchestra building.

Given his success with the IPO, his debut with the Grant Park Orchestra on Friday was highly anticipated, and Danzmayr did not disappoint. 

The Grant Park players under Danzmayr were at their best in the evening’s main fare—Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony (No. 3). Danzmayr heeded the “con moto” indication of the first movement’s opening Andante, which lent it an apt introductory feel. He also underscored that there are in fact two different fast tempi that ensue in the body of the movement—an Allegro un poco agitato followed by an Assai animato—taking a spacious approach to the former and driving the latter with propulsive force.

The Vivace non troppo had abundant esprit, adorned with lapidary contributions from the Grant Park principal woodwinds. Danzmayr spun the beguiling melody of the Adagio in a manner befitting one of the composer’s finest Songs Without Words, and imbued the martial second theme with stoic gravitas. He led the finale at a fast clip that kept its busy textures snappy and light on their feet, and the stately coda brought the work to its ennobled conclusion.

Colin Currie was the solo protagonist in the festival premiere of Andrew Norman’s Switch, written in 2015. Norman writes that his single-movement percussion concerto “explores non-linear narrative structures and video game logic,” though in this work structure and logic of any kind were in scarce supply, at least on a first hearing. 

Colin Currie. Photo: Norman Timonera

Switch begins with the soloist offstage, the orchestra creating an ethereal atmosphere. Currie ran out from stage right and went to work on an impressive armamentarium of percussion. For all of his athletic bounding among instruments, the percussion part itself adds little to the musical action. The whole of Switch vacillates between the eerie textures with which is opens and contrasting aggressive sections. The melodic lines and harmonic interest are almost uniformly in the orchestra, and the contributions of the “soloist” merely punctuate these (often in fact doubling them). 

This is music that needs to be seen live. The most memorable aspect of the performance was Currie’s rapid transitions from one group of instruments to another, which left one wondering what the experience of listening to it from the lawn without seeing the acrobatic soloist, must have been like. From the seats, if you closed your eyes, it was impossible to distinguish the percussion solo activity from the orchestral percussion section, despite Currie’s dynamic stage presence. 

To their credit, Danzmayr and the Grant Park players were game for the fiendishly knotty accompaniment. There are plenty of notes to be played over the course of the concerto’s thirty minutes, and the orchestral musicians rendered them incisively, with Danzmayr providing as much order as possible to the proceedings. Switch is not without moments of sonic intrigue, but could benefit from some judicious editing.

Friday night’s concert opened with Vaughan Williams’ Norfolk Rhapsody No. 2 in D Minor. This 1906 work was initially conceived as the central two movements of a Norfolk Song Symphony to have been based the composer’s devoted researches into English folk song, but ultimately the larger project was abandoned.

The material that remains provides an adequate curtain raiser. The opening Larghetto saw fine, tuneful contributions from the Grant Park wind players, the music proceeding in Vaughan Williams’ familiar bucolic vein. The faster second section was less convincing and at times almost inaudible, but Danzmayr led a taut reading.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Saturday. grantparkmusicfestival.com/


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