Published on February 28th, 2020

Review of ‘Beethoven’s Eroica and His Electric Universe’ Concert, February 22, 2020
Submitted by Amanda Clendenen

Electric Guitar + Orchestra.

What was I expecting? Nothing specific, honestly.

But then the first note hit and I was struck by mixed feelings. It was a nice blend between anachronistic dissonance, maverick stylization, and that breathtaking orchestral timbre that I’ve fallen in love with. The few times that I was tempted to put it in the “classical concerto” box, the ringing guitar and sharp tones of the xylophone reminded me that this piece is not to be “boxed in.” It emanates a musical melding of genres, leaving the listener both intrigued and reflective about the lines that time has drawn between repertoires. Perhaps the blurring of these lines is both a comment on the human experience and a form of expression that’s much needed.

There are so many layers that added to the experience of all four pieces presented this evening: 

The first piece performed, On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring by Frederick Delius, was a lovely introduction to the evening. The end of February is the perfect time for such a piece since we all are in anticipation of spring and ready to hear the birds revel in warmer weather.

Also, the palpable talent of Symphony Tacoma, paired with the eccentric skills of guest guitarist Michael Nicolella, created a unique kind of presence and atmosphere. Though their instruments of choice inherently suggest an impending chronological conflict, both the orchestra and Nicolella were able to move, to express, and to articulate Gottfried’s piece as one. 

Cohesion. How powerful it is to see such reconciliation despite seemingly opposing tones. That’s the beauty of music.

Inviting the audience into the musical space by introducing Gottfried’s piece, as well as the role and pedal functions of the electric guitar, was the perfect verbal prelude to build further anticipation of the actual performance. 

Oh, and the venue itself, the Pantages Theatre, contributed to an ambiance of excellence and mastery, making one feel they’ve walked into the early 19th century. ‘Twas ornate, classy, and with enough contemporary and historic touches to feel both back in time yet also comfortably at home. 

Did you know that the movement of the conducting itself composes it’s own story? Symphony Tacoma’s Conductor Sarah Ioannides’ artistic touch and movement was the perfect complement to Gottfried’s piece. Her style speaks powerful cohesion, almost in a way that reconciles the anachronism that’s felt when seeing an electric guitar among the orchestral instruments.

And of course, the final piece, Beethoven’s Eroica, marched us through a variety of musical ‘scenes.’ Harmonic tension and tonal modulations gave a glimpse of the difficulty of the piece.

Syncopation. 

Trip-pl-ets. 

Then more legato. I was blown away at the mastery and polished tone of the all four movements.

The evening as a whole teemed with hints of expression, cohesion, and reconciliation. Having a contemporary piece (Gotffried) side by side with an inspiring orchestral work (Beethoven) was an excellent way to pique and satisfy all facets of an audience’s interest. Genius! What a wonderful introduction to Symphony Tacoma for me. Here’s to filling 2020 with such experiences.