say your piece
ISSUE NO.154 23 OCT. 2003
Yoo's the Man
By Christian Gentry

s part of the Faust Festival, or Faust-ival, members of the Utah Symphony and extraneous actors and dancers provided a modern concert a la carte at Libby Gardner Concert Hall. Under the baton of guest conductor Scott Yoo, members of the Utah Symphony played Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta and Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat. Yoo’s presence made the night worthwhile, even if other aspects were lacking.

The Faust Festival has been going on since the latter part of September and won’t end until the beginning of November. It is a series of lectures, films and musical performances sponsored by the Utah Symphony and Opera that focuses on Goethe’s timeless Faust legend. Whether the subjects are directly taken from Goethe’s work or run along the same thematic lines, the festival has provided an interesting exploration into the world of early Romantic thought and idealism.

Along the lines of the Faustian legend is Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat (A Soldier’s Tale). Although this work was originally written as a mobile stage work with a narrator, a few actors, minimal set pieces and a small instrumental ensemble, it is rarely done with all of the forces. It is usually heard as a music suite without the extraneous elements. While pent up in Switzerland during World War I, Stravinsky collaborated with his colleague and Swiss writer Charles Ferninand Ramuz, whom he had recently met. Their collaboration led to a theatrical production that includes Faustian elements as well as characteristics of the Orpheum legend. The selling of the soldier’s soul to the devil in exchange for wealth and knowledge (Faust) and the tragic outcome of “looking back” (Orpheus).

The cast consists of three characters: The Man (Devil)/Narrator played by Michael Burnham, The Soldier (Carl Nelson) and The Princess (Rebecca Keene-Forde).

The musical ensemble at the performance only consisted of seven instrumentalists, including Scott Yoo as the violinist and conductor.

This performance of L’Histoire, although interesting to see in its original format, seemed to lack the dramatic intensity of the storyline. The symphony has received some criticism for including the enhancements of the listening experience. Some have said that the staging of symphonic and chamber works detracts from the music itself. It looked as if the criticism was taken to heart with this performance.

The acting and staging seemed to be subdued to a point where the performers were just going through mechanical expressions of emotion and conviction. Whether such mechanics were to be purely extraneous as to keep out of the way of the music or simply another place where the audience could rest its attention as to not have to actively listen is rather unclear.

Nevertheless, the original work was designed to tell a story through the means of music and acting. The marriage of the two forces was unclear and unbalanced. The music itself was well-done and very descriptive as to the story, but because of the lack of cohesiveness on the part of those on stage, the actors seemed to be more of a distraction.

The most impressive performance of the night should be handed to the guest conductor and violinist Yoo. The rendering of Bartók’s piece was remarkable. Bartók’s music exemplifies the raw and uninhibited sounds of the common man. This piece in particular has streamed from Bartók’s head to paper to performance. The last movement was full of raw energy, produced by a stereophonic generator of strongly accented rhythms and exotic folk-like scales.

Yoo’s interpretation was exhilarating. He simply let the music of Bartók take its natural shape while never missing a cue. If the Utah Symphony had a Miller Lite player of the game, Yoo would walk away with such an honor based on his charisma and skill.

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