post-concert reflections

I’m a little short on time today, but I thought I’d make some observations on the current classical series that we’re finishing tonight in Portland.

First, our guest conductor, James Gaffigan, is really starting to grow on me.  I’m always suspicious of the “wunderkind” conductors, as they rarely live up to their hype.  We had a similarly young guest a few years back that was singularly unimpressive, and that left me a bit gunshy, I admit.  But Gaffigan is very assured, connects very impressively with the audience, and has done a nice job of shaping the works for this series of concerts.  It’s a hard sell for a guest to come in and work over a warhorse like the Firebird, but he did so in a very casual way, almost charming us into doing it with his inflections, and not taking away what we, as an ensemble, brought to the party.

The Rodrigo has been impeccably performed by soloist Eduardo Fernandez, but I kept waiting for more passion in his performances.  He seems almost robotic in his stage presence, but he’s very musical and it’s been a pleasure to have an artist of his caliber on stage with us.  I just wish he’d take the dogs off the leash, so to speak.

Doing the Haydn “Hen” Symphony right after our Mozart 40 performances has been very interesting.  We’re not on such a short leash with Gaffigan, and he wants a slightly less dry style from the strings than did Kalmar in the Mozart.  It’s a very enjoyable symphony to play, and as exposed as the Mozart felt, the Haydn feels even more so – the textures are more spare, the writing perhaps even more economical in terms of orchestration.  It’s a delight to discover this work, however, and with so many uplayed Haydn symphonies to explore, I wish we’d do them more often.

The highlight of the evening for me has been, in a major moment of surprising myself, the Busoni Elegiaic Lullaby.  It’s the sort of piece that doesn’t bowl you over, but it insinuates itself into your being, leaving one feeling changed after it is done.  It’s a shame that there aren’t more Busoni pieces in the orchestral repertoire.

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