The orchestra got a copy of the brochure for next year’s concerts, and the season looks extraordinary! There will be lots of reasons to buy a subscription, including nearly 30 pieces never before played by the Oregon Symphony, a slew of A-list soloists, and some old chestnut favorites, too. I’ll write a post on my thoughts about the 2010-2011 season on Sunday or Monday.
Tonight we have a very interesting and varied concert (which seems to be the new ‘normal’ under Carlos), that has something for everyone. The two halves of the concert mirror each other: light –> dark; dark –> light.
The Overture, Waltz and Finale from the opera Powder Her Face, by Thomas Adés begins brightly, almost incandescently, in the height of decadence. Dance rhythms of all kinds permeate the Overture: foxtrot, tango, Charleston. The Waltz takes us into darker, more mysterious territory. Cross rhythms try to knock the waltz off its track, voices enter and exit, both unfinished and unbegun. The Finale comes straight from the Waltz, with the orchestra shaking itself apart in a flurry of disjointed pizzicati in the strings, and fades away as quietly as the Overture began, loudly. It is virtuoso composition for the orchestra (expanded from its original chamber opera version for 15 instruments), and an interesting feature is that Adés writes out all of the rubati that one might take if the music were written ‘straight’. Much like John Adams, Adés writes every last dynamic, tempo, and rhythmic subtlety out in detail, but the finished result ends up sounding loose and free, perhaps more so than if he had left these musical options open to the performers.
Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand is one of my favorite pieces. It begins in the depths of the orchestra, featuring one of his favorite instruments, the contra-bassoon, rising from the murky depths of undulating double basses and droning cellos. This music is almost uniformly dark, with none of the manic gaiety of the G major Concerto, but it is written brilliantly for the instrument – certainly it is true that if you were not looking at the soloist, you would be sure to think that they were using both hands! The piece most definitely shows off Ravel’s great strength: his ability to pace materials and build into tremendous climaxes with the utmost efficiency and subtlety. It’s a great end to the first half of the concert.
The second half opens with Gustav Holst’s Egdon Heath, a tone poem based loosely upon themes from Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native, which is largely set within the confines of the fictional location of Egdon Heath. Described as a vast, desolate moor of sparse habitation, it is an area rife with superstition and tales of witchcraft. Holst was a good friend of Hardy’s and regarded Egdon Heath as one of his finest works. It begins, much like the Ravel, in the lowest reaches of the orchestra, the double bass section, in a rare exposed soli passage. Dark and brooding are the usual appellations given to this piece, and it is largely dark and murky, representing a landscape that, in Hardy’s novel, is anthropomorphized to reflect the tangled interpersonal relationships of a story which delves into illicit sexual relationships in the height of Victorian England. Fires burn hot, but are concealed underneath layers of clothing or the dark bogs of the heath’s moors.
The final piece on the program is one of Mozart’s sunniest symphonies, No. 34 in C major. C major is considered Mozart’s most open and optimistic key signature, and this piece bears out that bit of wisdom. Nothing but pure energy and joy from beginning to end.