AMC has been very neglectful, mostly because of being very busy with other matters, so readers will have to be content with some short reviews.
- The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performed a concert with Music Director Robert Spano conducting Strauss and Holst. This was a magnificent concert- every thing seemed to be right. Every section of the orchestra was outstanding and the guest soloist was wonderful- oh wait, there wasn't one. AMC was happy to hear this wonderful orchestra play big, late romantic music without having to have a concerto. There should be more concerts like this. The orchestra was augmented in the Holst with many contract performers. There can be no doubt that hearing such a large orchestra play such rousing music is an experience that is truly spine-tingling. Both the Strauss and Holst pieces require an organ, but no, you say, Symphony hall doesn't have one. Not true, Not true. It has an electronic organ that can pump out the bass notes with the best of the pipe variety. It also generated the female chorus sounds in the Neptune section of The Planets. AMC has no problem with electronic organs if they are musical and sympathetic to the music as was the case here. David Coucheron was called upon to play several solos in these pieces and he performed them in grand style. The ASO musicians have been appearing in the lobby to entertain and schmooze with patrons lately. AMC thinks this a wonderful idea. Now only if Mr. Spano would loosen up.
- AMC was in San Diego recently and had the good fortune of coming across the restored Balboa Theater (adjacent to the ageing Horton Plaza) in downtown San Diego. Click here for more information about the theater: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balboa_Theatre. And Lo and Behold- there was a concert by the Mainly Mozart Festival Orchestra (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mainly_Mozart_Festival). The mainly Mozart Festival offers 43 musical events in 44 days, ranging from chamber ensembles to jazz classical fusion groups. The Festival orchestra is comprised of many leading musicians from across the country, including Concertmaster William Preucil, who is the concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra. Other notables include Martin Chalifour, concertmaster of the LA Philharmonic, and Jun Iwasaki, concertmaster of the Nashville Symphony. The conductor for this concert was David Atherton (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Atherton). The clarinet soloist was Anthony McGill, the orchestra's principal clarinetist. The violin soloist was none other that Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. The piano soloist was Anne-Marie McDermott. The Lutoslowski piece was written for a chamber-sized orchestra. It is a series of dances that alternate in mood. Maestro Atherton conducted, but AMC thought it might have been a bit of overkill given that there were only nine players. AMC is sure that Mr. Preucil could have conducted from his chair, but small matter. The performance was virtuosity and the acoustics of the smallish theater suited this size ensemble quite nicely. The Mozart Clarinet concerto was beautifully played by Mr. McGill. The second movement is a beautiful adagio and in Mr. Gill's hands (or mouth?) it was elegantly smooth. Miss McDermott also played the Concert Rondo with aplomb, but Mozart' music makes AMC's mind wander because it seems so predictable. But enough of that. The final piece was the Piazzolla "The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, with Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg. She was soloist with the ASO this season playing the same piece. She obviously loves the piece and plays it with fire and inspiration. Heavily influenced as it is by the Tango, the piece also includes allusions to Vivaldi's Four Seasons. This was a passionate performance that left the crowd wanting more. But a few observations about the audience- there was a "claque" in the balcony that insisted on applauding after every movement. At one point, they started applauding before the end of one of the seasons. It obviously distressed Ms. Sonnenberg, who waived her bow in a fruitless effort to quiet them down. There was also a man in front of me using smokeless tobacco who was spitting into a plastic bottle. Really? UGH! Save these few atmospheric points, it was a great concert in a refurbished hall.
- AMC lucked into one of the Balboa Park Concerts on the Great Spreckels outdoor organ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spreckels_Organ_Pavilion The soloist was Dr. Carol Williams. This is the largest outdoor organ in the Northern hemisphere and there is a campaign to add a few pipes to ensure that it is the largest in the world. The program included several Bach pieces and Souza Marches. (Unfortunately, AMC chucked out a copy of the program, so AMC is working from memory here). There were two pieces by Karl Jenkins, a Welsh composer, who was responsible for the albums Adiemus: Songs of Sanctuary. The two pieces played by Ms. Williams included Palladia and Adagio. They are very beautiful and spiritual works; for samples go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrhgk8Fa_QE and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5jtKuQeq0w. The organ concerts are played in a large plaza that is not shaded. The organ society provides rental umbrellas for shade. AMC, being very fair skinned, still suffered an extreme sunburn- all this suffering for art.
- The final ASO concert of the season featured an all-Brahms program, conducted by Principal Guest Conductor Donald Runnicles. Maestro Runnicles is among that elite group of conductors who is major name across the globe and its no wonder. AMC is always impressed with his high quality interpretations and control of the orchestra. The guest piano soloist was Lars Vogt in the Brahms First Piano concerto. AMC loves Brahms because of his wonderful ability to construct beautiful melodies with just a few notes. There is no better example of this than in the String Sextet No. 1 where is yearning and deeply felt theme appears in the second movement. Brahms dark luscious orchestrations are also lovely. But AMC is no fan of his Piano Concerto No 1 that strikes AMC as odd piece. It seems lumbering, unmelodic, and poorly structured. Even the opening to the fist movement is clumsy, at least to AMC's ears. This performance was good. Vogt has been criticized for his odd phrasing and its not difficult to hear. He emphasizes notes that others downplay. Vogt's interpretation added to the work's weaknesses. Also, what was going on with the duets between the Coucheron and Vogt? The violin could barely be heard and they were oddly out-of-synch. Brahms totally hits the target in his Symphony No. 1 however. It is lush yet with tight structure. It is full of beautiful and even serene melodies. What's not to like? Runnicles and the ASO performed at their peak, which was a fitting end to the season. AMC can only hope that we hear more of Runnicles and less of some of the guest conductors that the ASO schedules.