Monday, March 2, 2009

Pittsburgh Symphony - February 7, 2009

Conductor: Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 8
Édouard Lalo: Symphonie espagnole
Mr. Cárdenes, violin
Maurice Ravel: Bolero

If one were to publish instructions for “How to Sell Out a Symphony Orchestra Concert,” they would read like this:

1) Play Beethoven
2) Have your concertmaster play a concerto
3) Play Bolero

Needless to say, there was a large, excited crowd for this show. For me, however, it seemed like the concert of Things I Should Have Known but Didn’t.

Let’s being with the Beethoven. Even though I played this piece years ago, I can’t say I remembered it at all. So it was even more surprising to me when we got to the end and I realized that there hadn’t been a slow movement! No slow introduction to the first movement, sure . . . but no slow movement at all? No Adagio, no Andante . . . not even a Moderato! Instead Beethoven gives us this: Allegro vivace, Allegretto scherzando, Tempo di menuetto, and another Allegro vivace. A Beethoven symphony without a slow movement - where was I in orchestral literature class? I was hoping that the program notes would mention this unusual feature, but no luck there. There is an interesting anecdote in the program, though, that may (if we stretch it a little) speak to this. From Mark Rohr’s notes:
It is clear that the abortive romance with Antonie had a profound effect on Beethoven: he would never again become so close to a woman. He might have used the Eighth Symphony to vent his mighty frustrations but instead he seems to have brewed it up as a tonic. After all, sometimes things get so bad that all you can do is laugh. Out of the darkness Beethoven gives us light - and a warning to armchair psychologists.
If it is indeed the case that Beethoven was writing music that was purposefully cheerful as a remedy for his own sadness, perhaps that would explain the lack of a slow movement. Pure speculation of course, but who knows.

Then came the Lalo. I’d never heard of the composer or the piece, but really loved it. Mr. Cardenes is an amazing player, and piece itself manages to be flashy and playful and yet also exquisite and deep. Imagine my surprise when a violinist-friend of mine filled me in that the piece is actually pretty standard for them. Another friend of mine played it for a competition last year. And here I had been thinking that it was something obscure - oops! Glad I heard it, though - better late than never. J

Then there was Bolero . . . Who doesn’t love Bolero? I know it’s kind of cliché, but it really is one of my favorites. However, as many times as I’ve listened to it, I never really put it together that it’s one giant crescendo. (Duh, right?) When I read that in the program notes, I felt so clueless for never having recognized that in an articulated fashion. I also never knew that it was originally music for a ballet. (For anybody else who may have missed that bit of trivia, the scene is this: a female dances on a table in a tavern while the male patrons stare, transfixed. At the key change to E-major, the men start to brawl. The end.) It was kind of a fun new perspective to listen to it for the first time knowing the story. Ah, will the list of things I don’t know about music never cease to grow! It’s so daunting, the sheer amount of music and stuff about music there is to know . . . But anyway, back to Bolero: I would love to see it with dance sometime - I wonder if anybody ever does it that way anymore? The PSO did a great job with this one - even from my so-so seat I could see some of the string players really getting into it. And at the end, just when I thought they couldn’t get any louder, they pulled out all the stops and gave a little more. Way to rock it out, PSO!

No comments: