Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Give 'em what they want

Yesterday, for the first time ever, I took my eleven-year-old nephew and my mother to a classical music concert. Performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's training orchestra, the Civic Symphony Orchestra, and sporting $1 tickets, Orchestra Hall was filled to the brim. We three sat in the lower balcony and admired the large Romantic orchestra. The concert featured pieces that any novice to the orchestra would adore: Strauss' Don Juan, Prokofiev's Lt. Kije Suite, for a little exotic flavor, and a piece that should be performed endlessly, Respighi's Pini di Roma. I felt lucky and overwhelmed to be there with my mother and my nephew and to introduce to them something that has played such an important part of my life for over 15 years now.

The playing was crisp and precise, especially in the Strauss. I guess with that much turmoil, changes of dynamics, tempo, mood, color, the piece demands such control. Unfortunately, the triumphant horn call wasn't as pronounced as it should have been, so it appeared as a minor swelling of the already lush orchestral sound. My mother ultimately didn't like the piece's endless changes. Without a strong familiarity with the work and its ever-changing nature, I could see her point.
The Prokofiev was new even to me. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed having the tenor saxophone playing such a prominent role. The effects, including an off-stage trumpeter, and its exotic sound, were more pleasurable to my nephew. The piece was definitely in a more romantic vein, like his Romeo & Juliet. It seemed to be too far removed from the Strauss to be a pleasurable continuation of the concert. I was nonplussed because I knew the Respighi was coming.

If you haven't seen Fantasia 2000, you need to see it because what that film does with Pines of Rome is fantastic. It provides images that are fantastic and awful, in their strict senses. The last movement is exactly what a concert needs to conclude a concert, not only an increase in loudness, but also in staff. There is a visceral and emotional overflow when you hear those primal drum beats, and then you see extra French horns, and trumpets and trombones slowly make their way onstage. It was amazing! Every movement of that piece is amazing, and I was glad I was able to hear it live. So was my mother and nephew. They both were left inquiring about the next concert.

I am glad I live in a city where the practice orchestra is almost as polished as the CSO. In fact, three of last year's musicians received posts all over the world. As I recall, one was made the principal of the percussion section for the Hong Kong Philharmonic. One went to the Phoenix Symphony. It is a great success story. Their next concert will be headed by no less a figure than Maestro Bernard Haitink himself. I can't wait. Neither can my concert companions.

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