Sunday, March 25, 2012

A hair band.....

he asks me why
I'm just a hairy guy
I'm hairy noon and night
Hair that's a fright
I'm hairy high and low
Don't ask me why
Don't know
It's not for lack of break
Like the Grateful Dead

On March 22, 2012, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra presented a program that included:
Mozart: Violin Concerto No 3 in G major
Mozart: Symphony No. 34 in C major
Beethoven: Symphony No. 34. in B-flat major

The Concerto featured Leonidas Kavakos in the dual role of soloist and conductor.  Mr. Kavakos also conducted the other two works.  This review will only discuss the Mozart pieces.  Because I love the hyperbole of artist-supplied biographies here is the description of Mr. Kavalos from the ASO Encore Magazine:  Leonida Kavakos has established himself as a violinist and artists of rare quality, known at the highest levels for his virtuosity, superb musicianship, and the integrity of his playing.”   At the highest levels?  Huh?

The program was made up of the standard repertory.  The ASO can probably play this music decently with just a metronome at the helm.  But it Mr. Kavalos did not even supply that.  He was quite accomplished as soloist.  His tone was measured and he seemed to play with precision and elegance.  His conducting of the piece consisted of waving his bow when he wasn’t playing.  The waving had little to do with what was going on and it mostly focused on the first violins.  Again, with this standard repertory maybe more wasn’t needed.

In the Mozart Symphony No. 34, Mr. Kavalos showed a rather odd conducting style.  He seemed to be acting out the music.  If the hall was dark and he held glow sticks in his hand, I would think I was watching one of those lighting set-ups in dance clubs where the color and intensity of the lights changes with the music.  His focused seemed to be on dynamics, especially for the first violins, although he also liked to prompt the entries of the woodwinds.  The performance was elegant and beautiful.  The ASO strings and reeds really sounded wonderful.  Whether Mr. Kavalos added to this, I am not sure.  But at least he did not get in the way.
Mr. Kavalos has long, shoulder length hair.  He had black facial stubble, and he wore a black outfit, the top of which reminded me of an old smoking jacket, or worse, a pair of pajamas.  These of course are not important- I must say that lest I seem shallow.  But his presentation tended to underline my belief that he is a relaxed (maybe even lazy) conductor.  But we must remember he is known at the highest levels for his virtuosity. 

Still basking in the glow of my trip to Vienna, I am reminded how different European orchestras sound.  Some of the continent’s music critics describe American orchestras as too bright and even vulgar sounding.  The ASO certainly did sound bright compared to the Vienna Philharmonic.  I think that the acoustical environment has something to do with it, but not totally.  I think we do tend to like our music big and bright, with sharp and colorful brass.  I know I do.  But that does not make European orchestras small and colorless- just different sounding.  European music critics have their own kind of provincialism.   Fortunately, I have none of that. 

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