Conductor and music director laureate Michael Christi returned to the podium of the Phoenix Symphony this weekend for another example of innovative music. Christie’s encouragement of the Phoenix Symphony Commissioning Club resulted in the premier of The Returned Soldier, Symphony No. 3, by Australian Matthew Hindson. The composer puts to music the inner turmoil of a returning veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress. On his home page he says, “Physical injuries are horrific, but mental scars can remain just as potent for years. As a school student I was taught of the shellshock affecting returning soldiers from WW1.” Last week I read Dalton Trumbo’s classic anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun for the first time. Hindson’s symphony musically captures the brutality of war and how one might search for some sort of peace.

German cellist Daniel Muller-Schott displayed his technical brilliance and exhilarating passion in Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, Opus 33 (original version). The mellow sound from a cello is deeply satisfying. Muller-Schott showed the range of his instrument, from deep guttural sounds to the very highest pitch. Unfortunately, his performance had to compete against several coughing audience members. His encore turned his cello into a large guitar with his plucking pizzicati.

Ottorino Respighi’s symphonic poem Feste romane (Roman Festivals) was yet another special treat for our ears. The first movement, Circenses (Circus Games) depicts a gladiatorial battle to the death. The trumpet fanfare was played from the loge 1. Strings and woodwind suggested Christian martyrs standing against the snarls of beasts which ends with violent orchestral chords emanating from the percussion. In the second movement, Il giubileo (The Jubilee) we hear church bells announcing the fifty year papal tradition. In the third movement, Lottobrata (Harvest Festivals in October) a French horn solo celebrates the harvest. In the final movement, La Befana (Epiphany) the trumpets sound again. A melancholy solo trombone can be heard among Roman songs and dances. Altogether, another great evening of music with the Phoenix Symphony, and a reminder of the outstanding contributions from Michael Christie!