thoughts on three B’s

Kirill Gerstein 1
Kiril Gerstein, pianist

Tonight is the last of the three concerts making up the first of Classical Series B at the Oregon Symphony.  The program is a variation upon the famous “Three B’s” concert format – usually Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.  This time it’s Bach, Bernstein and Beethoven.  It pits two pieces by very well-known composers that are not performed as often as their other works against the mighty Seventh Symphony of Beethoven.

The Bach (the Orchestral Suite No. 4) is a conundrum.  It looks so simple on the page – nothing technically demanding, everything looks just so (at least for the strings, for the winds, it’s another story).  Then you get into rehearsals and performances, and it is a minefield of things that can go wrong in a hurry.  Bowing Baroque works is such a personal thing, and what works well for one player might not work so well for another, and it’s easy to slip into what you wish the bowing was instead of what it actually is.  That’s just about the time when Bach decides to modulate into another key and the accidentals start creeping in, leading to an altogether unplanned series of accidents.  Plus the ensemble demands of playing with a large body of strings instead of a much smaller Baroque sized complement.  Ugh.  It’s exhilarating, really, but also hair-raising.

The Bernstein Symphony No 2 (The Age of Anxiety) for piano and orchestra is one of his most underrated pieces, I think.  It’s been a revelation to perform it this weekend.  I’m beginning to find Bernstein more and more nostalgic as I grow older.  What seemed hokey and cloying when I was younger now seems more sincere and earnest and honestly theatrical.  Perhaps the subject matter of Auden’s epic poem is much more meaningful to me at this stage of my life?  In any case, Bernstein’s mastery of writing for the orchestra (not to mention the solo piano), his ingenious morphing of the materials from one variation to the other, and his masterful handling of the programmatic elements of the Auden poem in the musical form are very impressive, and the music has been making a major impression on me each time we perform it.  And lest I forget, soloist Kiril Gerstein is absolutely owning this piece.  Playing the absolute crap out of it.  Inspiring!

Finally, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.  Not much to say that hasn’t been said before, except that we’re doing it the way I’ve always wanted it to be.  It is lean, fleet, steely, flexible, fierce, and tender.  It’s been a joy to play each night.

Some other observations: we have the best woodwind section ever.  Period.  The trumpets sounded amazing all night.  The strings were rocking it, especially in the Beethoven, and there is such a great sound developing – it feels good.  Can’t wait for tonight – got your tickets yet?

8 Replies to “thoughts on three B’s”

  1. Went last night and it was fantastic. I’m glad Marilyn wasn’t injured by the flying baton! Seemed like everyone, including Carlos, took it in stride. Great concert!

  2. Thought you might be interested that I saw a review of Sunday night’s performance at the Seattle PI website from someone named James Bash. It was very positive. Perhaps you might post it or a link to it.

  3. Charles, I absolutely love your descriptions of the Bernstein and Beethoven! Totally apt, right on, you said it, and so forth. I just love that music can be steely and flexible, fierce and tender.

  4. If you are having trouble finding that review I mentioned, just go to and then go to the A&E and then to Theater and Fine Arts where you will see “3 Bs get A+ treatment from the Oregon Symphony.” It really is a rave review. I hope the orchestra can make use of it somehow in its marketing. I’m surprised that Seatttle cares about us down here in Portland.

  5. Here, I thought I found something that nobody was aware of. That review I mentioned is easily accessed right here at his site. Charles, go ahead and remove everything I’ve posted here if you want. My apologies.

  6. Hi Curtis,
    I didn’t know that my reviews were being picked up – via The Gathering Note – by the Seattle P-I. So, thanks for the pointer!

  7. It is sad going to school in Walla Walla when there are so many Oregon Symphony concerts I really want to attend this season–including this one, Beethoven 5, and the Dvorak Cello Concerto (which is during second semester finals). Oregon Symphony is one of the things I miss most about Portland!

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