Monday, March 17, 2008

Weekend concert wrap up

Most smile inducing: Michael Tilson Thomas. The SFS came to Ann Arbor with a hefty concert of Sibelius 7 and Beethoven 3. The first smile was the most sincere--MTT gave a fantastic talk before the Sibelius about thinking of it as a study of time, ever-shifting tempos, music that seems to move backwards, forwards, or just hover. It's very gratifying to see conductors who have a skill at explaining music in an engaging way that is both accessible and useful for the listener, any listener. And he was right. It's a gorgeous, fluid piece. I always think of Sibelius as a man of contrasting sonorities: chorale-like brass, hazy, scurrying strings, and more dance-like winds. But the symphony in one movement has a certain fluidity and structure he brought out nicely. Beethoven 3 needed no introduction, and it had a wonderful energy, especially the charming third movement coming after the very moderate tempo he took the second movement at. I'm also amazed at his ability to get two separate sounds from the orchestra for the two pieces. And the final smile of the night, two encores. A graceful, quiet Schubert piece from Rosemunde, and then a rousing version of Hail to the Victors (I don't know the words, but I adapted "Hail, Michael Tilson Thomas.")

Most intimate: my friend Jeanine's recital dress rehearsal directly after the concert. She sounded great, especially on the Harrison concerto. It's guite amazing how well he creates a lush, melodic sound out of a percussion ensemble, in a way that really complements the virtuosic but subtly so violin writing. Reich's Violin Phase, I have to say, requires more patience than I have at 1 am.

Most nautical: The Met broadcast of Peter Grimes. I'm still reveling over this. I love this opera, it's one of my all time favorites. The performances were spectacular, especially Patricia Recette's sensitive Ellen. Anthony Dean Griffey's Peter is appropriately moody, but also surprisingly tender in the more lyrical moments. And the crowd scenes, especially the Act 3 one were positively terrifying (I can only imagine it live). But the real winner here was the orchestra, which was appropriately terrifying in its sterner moments, but also beautifully create that shimmering quality in Britten's writing perfectly. My favorite of the interludes, Moonlight, was particularly good becuase of the long pauses between phrases, making what typically sounds simply radiant feel eerily darker. I'm torn on Doyle's production with the big wall of windows. It's highly effective at many points, such as the opening where everyone literally looks down on Peter, and the quartet for Ellen, Auntie, and the nieces, where each are in their little window. But the wall when it's closed is drab and unappealing, and not the eerie blue light behind the silhouettes is a brilliant contrast but not enough to excuse for me the long stretches of action in front of a big wooden wall. The end, in which the walls recede to create an empty, backlit stage is visually arresting, but too sharp a shift (although it's the perfect image for the way Britten ends the opera with an unsettling dawn).

Most nautical, unexpected: The carillon's playing Sloop John B. Thanks for that.

Most inexplicable programming: the UPO concert. My friend Abby's piece was being premiered. it's a good piece, tripartite with a gorgeous wind-dominated rhapsodic slow middle bound by energetic rippling figurations, that chrystalize in the end to a terrifying rhythmic unison pounding away. It opened the second half. The first half was also opened by a recent work, Michael Abels's Global Warming, a throwaway type piece that left me rather uninspired. It's purportedly about warming between cultures, but the effect is a sort of buffet style, with a large helping of celtic melody, with some samplings of African and Indian rhythms and Arabic modal violin music. The portions are off-balance and decidedly avoid mixing, which results in an audience-friendly, lively , and melodic piece I don't need seconds of. The first half ended with the by contrast weighty Elgar cello concerto. It's a great piece, and well played beyond some intonation issues. I especially like the way in which the first movement ends inconclusively and the introspective, somber theme returns echoed in pizzicatto strokes in the cello, interrupted with little scherzo figures. Its shadow haunts the movement, which is short and frantic, followed by a third movement which is rapturous, but still clearly under the spell of the first movement. And the final movement, a rousing rally whose climax is a reprise of the third movement and then the opening, finally resolved and released. The concert ended inexplicably with a Potslavian Dance from Prince Igor. It's one of those pieces I can happily add to my list of pieces I really don't care to hear again loud and bombastic, which seems to serve as a substitute for having anything of melodic interest to say. But what grabbed me about the concert is the programming, which didn't make any sense to me. Ending the first half with a weighty, serious piece and the second half with a pops-style, short and flashy piece, makes no sense to me, and neither fit at all with the Abels (Abby's probably wasn't done early enough to have much bearing).


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