Sunday, November 8, 2015

Music Capitol...

We often hear that Nashville is the Music Capitol of the world, but most often with regard to Pop, Country, Blues, Bluegrass, etc.  Most people probably do not associate Nashville as a major classical music market, mostly because the classical music press is so enamored of their outdated focus on the "Big Five" symphony orchestras.  Time to toss that old view and begin to embrace the truth that there are great symphonic organizations across the US (e.g., Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, San Francisco to name a few).  The Nashville Symphony should be added to the list. It is able to draw upon the richness of Nashville's musicians so that it is technically among the best, but it also has a major force as its Music Director- Maestro Giancarlo Guerrero. Friday night's concert was preceded by a discussion of the program, led by Mr. Guerrero.  There were easily 200 people present who took listened intently as Guerrero talked about Bruckner and his own love of Bruckner's music.  The Maestro is obviously admired, if not adored, by patrons.  A woman sitting next to AMC was bubbly with praise of Guerrero, his leadership, musicianship, and his impact on the community.   The Maestro made his case for his admiration of Bruckner and he explained why Schermerhorn Hall is the perfect place to play Bruckner (hint: its the hall's resonance).  But this was an exciting presentation.  Composer Michael Daugherty also discussed his new work that Guerrero was about to premiere.

AMC has discussed the Schermerhorn Hall before.  The exterior is in a neo-classical revival style with a small but nice plaza in front with several fountains.  Unfortunately, it is a smallish building that is being swallowed by the burgeoning downtown of Nashville.  It is difficult to have a long-distance view of it. But that is the nature of growing cities.  The interior is full of marble, and walls that are painted a soft green with gray accents. Several styles are incorporated into the hall's design.  the include, neo-classical, art deco, post-modern, Egyptian revival, and a touch of Victorian.  And it all works beautifully together. The auditorium itself is in the traditional "shoe box" shape, and the seats are made of Brazilian cherry wood, as is the grand wooden floor.  Apparently the floor is on rollers so that it can be moved.  that stage has risers on which the musicians sit, and which can be raised or lowered depending on the music being played.  The Schoenstein organ is a perfect complement to the auditorium.  The acoustics are superb.  The orchestra sounds beautifully blended, yet enabling each section of the orchestra to have a spotlight, but not at the expense of the other sections.

The program began with Daugherty's "Once Upon a Castle Symphonie Concertante for Organ and Orchestra (2003/ rev. 2015). "  This was the premiere of the revision.  In the pre-concert talk, the composer said that the work is an homage to the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, CA.  It portrays the excitement of being an invited guest to one of Hearst's lavish parties and also the Olympic-sized pool on the property.  The program shifts a bit in the final two movements, where it focuses on representations of the life of Hearst as portrayed in Orsen Wells' film "Citizen Kane." The power of the Hall's organ was amply demonstrated  by organist Paul Jacobs. The work itself is pleasant and descriptive.  The Third moment was especially effective in portraying Kane and his live-in girlfriend having a discussion that eventually  became an argument. It was mostly a dialogue between a solo violin and the organ.  Throughout the piece, AMC could hear a bit of Korngold, Grofe, Ravel/ Debussy, Richard Strauss, among others in the music.  That is not meant as a criticism, but description of the work's richness.   Jacobs and Guerrero seemed to work well together.  This was something of a challenge because the organ keyboard faced the audience, with the podium behind it. Guerrero had to do some major head turns to ensure that he and Jacobs were together.   But it was a very successful performance of a work that is immediately likable and which should become a concert-hall favorite.  To repay the audience for its standing ovation, Jacobs played a Bach fugue as an encore.  The organ has a particular beautiful flute stop and thunderous bass.  Bach certainly would have been proud.

Guerrero's Bruckner 4 was nearly perfect.   The horns, so important here, were polished and technically right on point.  The violas were wonderful in their second movement spotlight.  They were warm, and never lost in the sound of the full orchestra.  Guerrero had the low brass under control so that their "brassiness" never overpowered, which can happen with bad acoustics or a less-than-stellar conductor.  Guerrero's tempo choices were wise throughout.  He was particularly adept at providing the right amount of  tonal and dynamic contrasts between main and secondary themes.  AMC was seated in one of the "sweet spots" on the main floor of the hall.  It was easy to see the Maestro conveying his appreciation and enthusiasm to the orchestra.  As noted, it was a great performance.

The symphony administration has decided to let patrons bring drinks into the hall.  It worked- no major bottle droppings or plastic crinkling.  Also, the pre-concert announcements included a reminder to patrons to turn-off their electronic devices.  Many orchestra do this and it makes sense.  Since the Daugherty piece was being recorded, the audience was also asked to be especially quiet.  that seemed to work also.

In sum, the Nashville Symphony is a great orchestra, with a great Music Director, and a great hall.  If you can, take the opportunity to take it in when you are next in the Music Capitol.

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