Saturday, May 24, 2008

Detroit Symphony Orchestra - Concert No. 8

Have you ever gone out to dinner, to a restaurant you have been to many times, and ordered something different off the menu, instead of your typical appetizer? If you have, and were surprised about how much you enjoyed it, this was how I felt listening to Sergi Prokofiev's Autumnal. This light-hearted sketch for symphony orchestra fluttered like leaves under Maestro Ashkenazy's hands, bringing at once something familiar yet unfamiliar to the beginning of the concert.

Following the overture, one of the juggernaut works of the piano repertoire was laid before me. Often compare to a finely cooked filet mignon, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 is the pinnacle of an audience's experience, and often prepared to be both fiery and buttery smooth at the same time. The interpretation this evening, however, was a little dry for my personal tastes: the replacement soloist banging away with his left hand to a point where I was concerned for the safety of the lowest keys.

For a finale to the evening, Maestro Ashkenazy offered up his take on Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. He re-orchestrated the work from the original piano score. The result was something both familiar and unfamiliar; I heard all the themes, but they were in the wrong timbres and with different instrument families. I would need to hear it again to decide if I liked it, I was too busy the first time comparing it back to the more familiar Ravel vision.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Detroit Symphony Orchestra - Concert No. 7

During last evening's concert of Gustav Mahler's Ninth Symphony, I did one of the geekiest things any music lover is prone to do at a concert. Instead of enjoying the concert in a standard fashion, I followed along using a complete score.

Now, I have to reveal a second little secret: I did not know how to read music until I was in college. This is really a fault of both myself and my situation. I never had any formal instrumental training and only minimal vocal lessons. When I was required to learn parts for a musical or choir piece, I relied on my ears. I listen to the piano line or a recording of the part until it was ingrained in my mind. Looking back, it was a horrible way to learn, but it was the only way afforded to me at the time.

Following through the 182 page score was an amazing journey that made the entire hour and a half long symphony fly along. I had become so familiar with the themes and orchestrations it was unsettling to see them in the graphical notation. I was themes build and die away, move in conjunction and relate to other parts of the piece in a new structure like never before. And I only got lost once, in the Rondo section, when I was actually more enthralled with listening than reading. It was an extremely technical process, one that while heightening my distinction of all the various moving parts, I did not get emotional brought into the work. I felt like I was just an observer, not moved by the experience. It was a great experiment, though I think next time I will just go back to listening sans notational assistance.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Detroit Symphony Orchestra - Concert No. 6

In the classical musical world, an orchestra can rarely get more press than having Yo-Yo Ma as soloist. Unless you happen to be a four foot tall robot from Honda, whose name stands for Advanced Step In MObility. ASIMO was just one component of the DSO's program last night, stirring international press circles that often do not take much stock in orchestral performances. It was extremely interesting to have reports from and other Tech sites discuss the relationship between a classical art form and advance technology, but more on that in a coming blog.

Yo-Yo Ma's energy and passionate is very apparent in his every body movement. His eyes are bright and always seem to catch your attention and then move your own eyes to his always present smile. It is an immensely comforting experience to be in his presence, and when he talks he makes the entire world collapse and puts the focus just on you. And when he puts bow to cello string, the tone immediately draws your ear right to the auburn collection of wood and metal between Yo-Yo's legs. I cannot begin to describe the sound of his performance, only that you know are hearing something special, that rings above anything else you have ever heard. Having dated a cellist in college, I was extremely familiar with the repertoire, especially the Hadyn cello concerto. My ex-girlfriend's playing notwithstanding, the first notes from cello and orchestra communicate a joy with such ease I totally forget I was standing for the entire work. I could do nothing but smile and clap and take the occasional breathe when I remembered it was required to keep on listening.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Detroit Symphony Orchestra - Concert No. 5

When I was working with LACO, it was common place to have the Music Director Jeffery Kahane at the keyboard conducting and performing. For a chamber orchestra of 40 players, mimic the style prevalent in the time of Mozart and Hadyn is quite easy. But you would not expect to see a conductor direct a nearly 100 piece orchestra as they perform one of the most difficult and recognized pieces in 20th century literature.

Andrew Litton, Music Director Emeritus of the Dallas Symphony, was able to step into a set of two concerts after a week needed to be rearranged. Tackling Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" from the keyboard turned podium was a refreshing change to the work. I enjoyed listening to Andrew bring the delicate portions of the piece to life on the keys, allowing the orchestra to glide around and support the lusciously quotable solo lines.

The second half of the concert was, by contrast, very traditional and standard. Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony is on nearly everyone's 10 Ten list. It is well-composed, has great pace throughout, but it can suffer from being performed in an unoriginal or forced manner. Maestro Litton did a great job of conveying the energy and urgency that Fate is ever present in our lives.