Sunday, January 12, 2014

Happy New Year...

It has been about six weeks since AMC stepped a foot into a concert hall.  The new calendar year and the first Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) concert have come rushing in, and both in a good way.



The ASO received a wonderful New Year's gift- the house was full.  AMC hasn't seen this except for events such as last season's John Williams' appearance.

For Ken Melzer's program notes go here:  http://www.atlantasymphony.org/ConcertsAndTickets/Calendar/2013-2014/Lortie-Mozart.aspx

The program began with the moving and beautiful "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis," which was composed about a century ago, during the flourishing of the English late-romantic period.  Composer Vaughn Williams scored it for a string quartet, large string orchestra, and a small chamber-sized ensemble made up of 9 string players.  To AMC's ears and sensibilities, this is one of the most beautiful and touching pieces of music ever written.  It contains exquisite passages for the viola, both as a solo instrument and as part of the full orchestra.  The composer had a particular knack, not only here, but in his other works, to use the viola to add a slightly other worldliness.  The Fantasia cries out to be played in the resplendent reverberation of an English Cathedral. It's long lines are constructed almost as if to ensure that the piece would not be lost in a cavernous space.   Symphony Hall is no cathedral, but with its recently re-energized acoustics, it was never-the-less golden.  The ASO strings were burnished as well-rehearsed.  Special compliments to Concertmaster Coucheron and Viola Principal Reid Harris for splendid soloing. ( The last performance of this work that AMC heard was with the Omaha Symphony.  The Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha is a much more reverberant space than Symphony Hall,and the Omaha group acquitted itself quite beautifully).

For those who do not know of this work, here is a version from YouTube.  It includes the original choral work by Tallis and the complete Vaughn Williams Fantasia.  It also has a scrolling version of the score, which is a nice addition:



A few weeks ago, AMC interviewed one of the ASO's bright lights (cellist Jennifer Humphreys).  During the conversation, soon to appear on this web-site, AMC made the observation that one of the reason's AMC does not like the music of Mozart is that it is very predictable.  Even without knowing the piece, AMC can usually predict the next notes.  AMC is of the opinion that is many cases, a computer could compose works that sound very much like Mozart.  Well, after a bit of a search, AMC found "Mozart's 42nd Symphony," which was computer-generated by composer and programmer David Cope (see here for an article about professor Cope and his computer: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/but-is-it-mozart-1237509.html.  Here is a link to this faux Mozart:



So, its kind of heartless, but then that's how AMC feels about much of Mozart's output.  But in AMC's conversation with Ms. Humphreys, AMC did say that the later works of Mozart were heartfelt and quite beautiful, meaning less mechanical.  So to demonstrate this, the ASO programmed the beautiful Piano Concerto No. 21, with soloist Louis Lortie.  The second movement contains the lyrical theme used in the 1960's movie titled "Elvira Madigan," a story about lovers whose fate was sealed, in part, by one of the characters deserting the military.  Mr. Lortie played beautifully and the ASO provided sympathetic support under the direction of guest conductor Peter Oundjian.  There were one or two odd notes by Mr. Lortie, but the overall effect was stunning.  Maybe this work is why all of the Symphony Hall seats were filled.

Here is a version from YouTube whose soloist and orchestra are not identified but which demonstrates how playing this movement in a very legato- Romantic style increases its melodic lines.

     


The last work on the program was Dvorak's  Symphony No. 7 in D minor.    The quality of Dvorak's output was variable, just like most of human efforts.  This work is not nearly as familiar as his 8th and 9th symphonies, but it  is equally melodic and colorful.  Dvorak admired Brahms and throughout his music it is possible to hear the older composer's influence, but Dvorak does not have the darker, thicker sound that Brahms mastered so beautifully. Dvorak, who lost three of his beloved children just a decade before this symphony was composed still managed to compose, at least to AMC's ear, a rather upbeat sounding piece of music.  The third movement is particularly catchy- its hummable.  Here's a YouTube version of what appears to be a primarily Asian orchestra.  There is no attribution, but there is a certain "sewing machine" quality to the first section and a drifting in the second second section, but it is interesting:




in contrast, the ASO performance was wonderful.  It was idiomatic and the various sections of the orchestra played with real virtuosity, which was recognized by Maestro Oundjian at the conclusion.  With the new acoustical characteristics of the hall, the trombones have never sounded better.  the basses and the cellos also sounded impressive.  This was a great performance and deserved the usual Atlanta standing ovation at the conclusion of the work.

Maestro Oundjian was impressive.  Word was from an ASO musician that he "really knows his stuff" were born out in these performances.  He was clearly in control and he was assertive in actually directing the performance, rather than simply counting the beat.  The ASO seems to respond to this kind of conductor with tight and nuanced performances.  One other conductor who had this effect was Jaap Van Zweden, who appeared here several years ago.  (See Michael's Kurth's comments about Van Zweden in his recent conversation with AMC.)  Mr. Oundjian is currently music director in Toronto and with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.  He is a "keeper" and it was refreshing that his publicist didn't include a statement to the effect that is his a leading light of his generation of conductors although he may be.
His conducting style can be seen in this clip:





This was a great concert and it demonstrates the brilliance of the ASO.

Thanks to all of the musicians, benefactors, patrons and volunteers that made this concert possible.  

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