Sunday, May 20, 2007

Five Things about the Harrisburg Symphony

I attended the Harrisburg Symphony's season finale, Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Magnum Opus Saturday night at the Forum in Harrisburg. Wowsers, they know how to end a season!

1. The evening began with Dvorak's Scherzo Capriccioso. It's a perfect piece to open a concert, and while there wasn't stellar ensemble playing, it was very musical and the charm of Dvorak is unmistakable in the hearts of the HSO and Stuart Malina. In his comments beforehand, Malina mentioned its a nice mix of Dvorak from the Slavonic Dances with his scherzi in the symphonies but longer than any of those - I thought, yeah an odd animal created by Dvorak, before the odd animal by Scott McAllister! lol

2. The world premiere of Tarkus, a concerto for trombone and orchestra by Scott McAllister was next. Ostinato is king for this work - tight rhythms are masterfully orchestrated and blended into this virtuosic 20 minute ride, rarely giving the soloist a break, which is one of the strengths of the soloist Brent Phillips. Contrasts and extreme pitch ranges were well executed and a Panufnikian percussion part was quite "striking" (pun intended) in the timpani, which Brent acknowledged in the curtain calls. While the piece is inspired by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and certainly has downright warring Armadillo moments, you can't imagine the sincere beauty and simplicity in the piece. I hope it will be recorded or played frequently.

[Scott McAllister, Brent Phillips and Stuart Malina]

3. An encore with the entire orchestra (which tells you they not only felt confident about having the entire program under their fingers, which the HSO did, but that they were quite secure with a world premiere, bravo!) of Astor Piazzolla's Adios Nonino featured Brent again, with a dedication to his Grandfather and Father. It felt just right and was very fun, another toe tapper that made the first half even more balanced to the big second half. While it was musical, moving and a nice contrast, I wondered if they could have played Tarkus again instead. Seriously!

4. Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony rounded out the program and is a perfect see-you-next-season sorta piece. I've always loved the inner movements of this piece personally, and was blown away by Stuart's tempo for the scherzo - holy cow! They played fast, precise and had me on the edge of my seat. Tender playing from the orchestra and principal clarinetist Janine Thomas melted my heart in the adagio. Some friends of mine pooh pooh this work, "oh its noise" and "makes me ill." They don't get the over the top Russian romance that is Rachmaninoff, much like an ornate cigarette case or egg by Faberge, which is a perfect analogy to this ornate and fluffy symphony. I actually traveled from Dallas, TX to Raleigh, NC to meet a lover to hear this symphony along with Beethoven's Violin Concerto, a perfect romantic program, over Valentine's Day - only telling her to show up at the airport with a nice dress and clothes for a weekend. So I get the over the top romance, maybe it's a connection of the Inupiat eskimos traveling across the ice from Siberia seven generations ago that connects me? Small aside, Brent Phillips played the Rachmaninoff! He had an assistant that played in places and with the section in moments, but Brent is indeed a player among players. Small aside aside, Wendy Warner in the mid 1990s, sat in the cello section in Wichita when they played the Second Symphony there, because she loved the music, and even did so in the rehearsal, having played Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations and Saint-Saens' Allegro Appassionato in the first half.

5. I gave the pre-concert talk (which will be another post!) at 7pm and will give another today at 2pm, and had fun looking into these works more. My prep included not only going over scores, but interviewing Scott about his work, and putting together listening examples that complement parts of the Rachmaninoff. I always try to think what would I like to know before a concert, and when I go to hear other folks talk, listen to them, and to audience questions - another fascinating way to know audiences, to observe them listening to the music, and what questions they ask - which is pretty different wherever you live.

[myself, Scott and Brent, photo by the stunning Marty Malina]

Read Dr. Dick's view of this concert here. You can also hear Scott McAllister talk about his concerto on the Composing Thoughts site, and see the next season of the Harrisburg Symphony here - see you there!

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