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DSO explores technology Performance of “Cyborg” includes experimental sounds GABRIEL CAMERO Contributing Writer The Detroit Symphony Orchestra gave an emotionally powerful performance Nov. 7 at 7:30 p.m. in the Max M. Fisher Music Center’s Orchestra Hall that displayed their control in dynamics, tempo, emotion and polyphony, including within individual sections of instruments. Gustav Mahler’s darkly childish and mostly peaceful “Symphony No. 4 in G” was listed on the ticket and concluded the concert after intermission, but the anchor piece for the program seemed to be Spanish composer Ferran Cruixent’s “Cyborg.” The performance began with the American premiere of “Cyborg,” which Cruixent viewed in Barcelona via the DSO’s free live webcast series, followed by Jean Sibelius’ conflictive Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D minor Op. 47. “Cyborg” is one of several pieces by Cruixent that deals with artificial intelligence and machinery but this one is directly about the near hybrid of man and machine, especially regarding medical technology, in the 20th and 21st centuries. Drawing heavily on his film and TV composition lessons from the Academy of Music and Theatre in Munich the piece has a Danny Elfman and John Williams feel. Cruixent maintains a tension in “Cyborg” that often gives a sense of fear and anxiety until

finally yielding to acceptance in the final section titled “With Hope.” Along with tonal directions such as, “Like an EKG machine,” Cruixent stretches the classical canvas of an orchestra by directing wind instrumentalists to inhale and speak through their instruments. The whole company sang in a mechanical Gregorian chant as well as set their phones to play a preloaded MP3 creating a Game-Boy-esque section. One of the percussionists set the tension of “Cyborg” perfectly with a xylophone in imitation of an aged telegraph. After a few bars this was met with a roll from the bass drums imitating the wind of a desolate landscape where the small stirrings of high-pitched violins and flutes slowly crescendoed to the marching beat of trombones into a terrifying shrieking roar. The stereo swirling of the music was a great demonstration in instrument placement and the division of sections. Then there was a moment of tranquility that symbolized a brief time when humanity found harmony with technology, and was unafraid of it. During this section was a peaceful flute solo and natural sounds coming from some instruments, but also a constantly haunting discordant drone from the rest of the orchestra. This soon accelerated and crescendoed with the nightmarish technological theme into a chase-like section. This was contrasted again by a hospital-

like section with a whir through the orchestra seeming to imitate blood and oxygen flow while the French horns inhaled to imitate breathing. Meanwhile, the flutes and some others imitated an arrhythmic heartbeat. As the heartbeat and breathing slowed down and increased with pressure the company tier-crescendoed into a sustained flute note to symbolize flatlining. From here everything swelled with warmth and tranquility into acceptance, and the company sang a section resembling machines singing an ancient chant that could unfortunately do with some more enunciation. However, the final and repeated phrase gets the point across thoroughly: “The body is obsolete.” The use of cellphones that followed was a brilliant choice, again because of the positioning of the phones. They filled the stage with a different kind of energy forming a complex melody. The orchestra supported the phones with sustained crescendoing notes rising in pitch toward a beautifully peaceful duet between the steel drums and flute. The intensity continued with Moscow-born French violinist Alexandra Soumm in Sibelius’ popular “Concerto for Violin” and “Orchestra in D minor Op. 47.” Soumm’s bow remained intact, despite a seamless run of a concerto known for its destructive force on the delicate tool. Throughout the piece she openly displayed her emotion by danc-

ing through her runs with confident playfulness, perhaps reminiscent of the hard-partying Sibelius who was uncompromising through many financial problems. She also interacted intensely with the orchestra, alternating between camaraderie, sympathy and challenge depending on the relation between the motifs of the soloist and the company. The company was most comfortable playing Mahler’s “Symphony No. 4 in G”. The symphony is meant to explore what the afterlife is like for a child and like “Cyborg”, contains somewhat unusual instruments and an emphasis on both polyphony within sections and the spacing of the orchestra. Grammy-winning soprano Ilana Davidson sang comfortably in the wideranged finale of the syrupy fourth movement with precise diaphragm control as evidenced by her arms moving out and in with the muscle. Although Mahler’s 4th and Sibelius’ Violin Concerto may not have much in common, they both relate to Cruixent’s “Cyborg” because the pieces used different approaches to composition in their time. Each piece is also melodically and structurally similar to “Cyborg”. The relation between these pieces, the caliber of performance and the flow from the intense beginning of “Cyborg” to the tranquil ending of Mahler’s 4th made for a brilliantly synthesized and entertaining night at the DSO.


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