The Atlanta Symphony had superstar violinist Izthak Perlman as guest artist and conductor this past weekend. See the program notes here: http://www.atlantasymphony.org/ConcertsAndTickets/Calendar/2012-2013/Perlman-Commands.aspx. AMC is late providing a review due to a very busy schedule. Sorry.
The program consisted of two seasons (Summer and Winter) from Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Perlman was both a soloist in and conductor of the music. He also provided comments about the piece between the two seasons. He was charming and entertaining. Classical concerts would be much less stodgy if others who have the skills would address the audience more. The key phrase here is "if others who have the skills." AMC can imagine how awful it would be if someone went on and on in monotone with a thick foreign accent. This was a very nice performance with a chamber-sized orchestra. Many criticize Vivaldi for being the 'sewing machine" composer since his writing seems to have many up-and-down bowings on the violin. But that aside, his music is always full of sunshine and optimism. As Perlman pointed out, he also successfully includes musical impressions of wind, raindrops, and birds. AMC's only complaint about the performance is the somewhat hesitant playing of the ASO cello section. "Wimpy" is too strong, but its in the right direction. AMC thinks the orchestra could benefit from European-style seating of the orchestra so that the sound boards of the cello section would face the audience. Finally, AMC is spoiled by having seen and heard The Four Seasons being played in Vienna in a 400-year old church by a small chamber group. Click here for excerpts: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjZ3GMkP_6A.
Mahler's Symphony No. 1 is grand music. It is at once noble, gentle, bold, and meandering. AMC views this composer's music as sort of a walk through the composer's free associations about life, love, and loss. Like so many other composers in the late nineteenth century Mahler ruminates on "fate" and its affect on human lives. Today, fate is a faded concept given that Freud came on the scene revealing to us that we are the cause of many things that happen-good and bad- in our lives. Mahler fans find his music to be emotional roller coaster. AMC recalls a recent story where Maestro Bernard Haitink, acknowledged to be one of the great Mahler interpreters, had a patron tell him that a performance he had just heard made him cry openly. Haitink was quoted as saying something to the effect that the man needed less Mahler and more psychotherapy. Nevertheless this is the kind of emotional investment many listeners have with this music. AMC was very dubious during the first ten minutes of this performance. It was as ragged as I have heard the great ASO play. Entrances were imprecise, intonation problems abounded, and overall ensemble was missing. But things then improved. As is usually the case, the various sections of the orchestra showed their talents. The woodwinds, brass (even with a few "pitchy" moments), and violins were outstanding. The solo bass performance was beautiful. This symphony requires eight French horns- twice the usual orchestral compliment. Twice the number of horns- twice the opportunity to screw things up and the horn section rose to the occasion. AMC is used to the flubs of the ASO horn section and here they sure took the opportunity to do it again in a piece of music that requires rock solid horn playing. The horns, while mostly good, made more than a few cringe-worthy errors. Notwithstanding these problems, this was a grand performance and Mr. Perlman showed that not only is he a violin virtuoso, but also a competent and ambitious conductor. The audience love the performance and gave it a standing ovation. Oh wait in Atlanta everything gets a standing ovation. But the Symphony Hall seats were full so if the audience loved the performance its all to the benefit of the ASO.
Thanks to the musicians, benefactors, patrons, and volunteers that made this performance possible.