Monday, November 28, 2005

Powerful Premiere

Saturday night was an excellent evening*. Friends and I went to Philadelphia, an easy trip with good discussion, then a yummy Italian dinner. I was able to exchange our extra ticket for a performance in January with Leila Josefowicz playing John Adams' Violin Concerto (also with Shostakovich final symphony!)
Whilst they walked around the Kimmel Center, I caught an after dinner cigar - one of the latest stoogies from CAO. We caught the pre-concert talk, with Jennifer Higdon and the timpanist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Don Liuzzi. Also attending the talk was composer Christopher Theofanidis. (He was amazed and amused we spotted him.) A good discussion followed, and I was glad to hear curious listeners ask the composer questions. An usher towards the end, thanked Jennifer for her excellent piece, stating he usually does NOT like modern music, but her piece was definitely riveting (and humorous as we all thought he was going to say "Times up, you must leave for the concert...) A quick hello to Jennifer (she was pleased to see us!) and we were off to our seats. The third tier is an excellent view, and sound was lovely. At least on the end we could lean over to be able to peer over the balcony handrail - although also being on the end means everyone else passes by. (Also it was cool that a lady sat right next to me - who had bought our extra ticket - I had placed my coat there thinking the seat would probably be empty - I do think she moved for the Beethoven on the second half as it was empty for Eroica [honest, I wore deodorant!] or perhaps left.)
Then Maestro Eschenbach and Colin Currie came out, said a few words, so did Jennifer. The piece started. Higdon's Percussion Concerto is of an amazing high quality and beautiful. Her sounds are original and in a word perfect. (Afterwards I was discussing that ability, who I believe is also in the music of Augusta Read Thomas) to be not only intellectually satisfying but emotionally moving - in equal parts. Working within the past framework but making it your own. They are both gifted composers, who I think will be played centuries from now.
The concerto is 25 minutes long (I'm told that, it certainly didn't seem that!) and is in one movement. There were 3 stations of solo percussion (mallets, miscellaneous percussion, and drums) that Colin went to and fro - sometimes having to cross in front of the very skinny Eschenbach (Higdon mentioned in the concert talk advising Colin not to get hit with the baton) - but mostly was in the mallet area (a request of the soloist who really likes Marimba).
As for the orchestra parts, it was again, just right. Most striking (so to speak) was the percussion section, who were a great compliment and addition to the solo part. This is quite genius I believe, and for one rehearsal (again, the concert talk was VERY informative!) and one performance (the very first was Friday evening, this was the second "birth" in the words of Eschenbach - calling Higdon the possible meaning of course) I was astounded by the concerto. I actually really want to hear it again and hope it is recorded in the near future. Dallas and Indianapolis audiences will be treated to it soon, and the Philadelphia Orchestra is touring with it in the next few weeks to DC and NYC. If you are in these areas or are going to travel there, definitely catch it.
A standing ovation was definitely in order - I rarely say that or take part in standing o's - they are overused to a point of not meaning anything! but it was nice to see two curtain calls for Currie and Higdon.
At intermission we congratulated Jennifer again, and will see her in NYC for an eighth blackbird performance this next month.
The other work on the program Beethoven's Eroica Symphony. Unfortunately the cut offs of the first two chords were butchered by the strings. (BTW, I counted, the famous 100 strings of the Philadelphia Orchestra are now 86.) This did not bode well for me - I take Beethoven as the Shakespeare of music - one that is revered and of all time - the master. I expected great, great, great things from the Philadelphia Orchestra - they had just astounded me with the premiere minutes before. Now, that being said, everyone has off nights, maybe rehearsal was spent only on Jennifer's piece, etc etc. And there were gorgeous, moving portions of the Beethoven. But the trio of the Scherzo was shaggy - the horns were off by miles! The finale is charming and funny - gets me everytime. So, I love Beethoven, especially with a great orchestra - and look forward to more performances with them - hopefully more "on" than "off." At least they shone in the new work (who knows, maybe they were off there too - I'd never heard it before!) - I would have been furious had they coldly presented the Higdon and then played their hearts out of Beethoven.
All in all, one of the most enjoyable nights I've had in classical music. And I can't express enough how wonderful it is to be at a world premiere of such high quality.

*Note: You may also read about this event from the delightful and knowledgeable Dr. Dick Strawser.

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