If you were at last weekend’s classical series concerts, you know what this post’s title refers to. Of course, it is Gregory Vajda’s newly revised piece for orchestra, entitled Duevoe. It’s the transliteration of the sound that the Hungarian bass instrument makes as it swells within each note of the bass line of Hungarian folk music. Pretty cool, no? The piece opened the concert, and provided my first ever witnessing of the “bull roarer“, an instrument that involves flinging a piece of shaped wood on a rope around like a maniac, resulting in a vaguely helicopter-ish sound. It is distantly related to the whirligig. Percussionist Gordon Rencher provided the aerobics for this endeavor. A prominent saxophone solo was played expertly and with great verve by Tim Jensen. It was an interesting and fun challenge to play the piece – it has a lot of mixed meters and some exposed writing for two solo violas (and four at one point) – there’s a fine line for orchestral musicians: you don’t want music to be too easy, because you get bored, and then you get irritated. You also don’t want to music to get too hard, because then you have to practice, and then you get irritated. There’s a sweet spot in there, and Gregory managed to find just the right point (at least for me) where it required some mental agility to keep on top of the music, but it wasn’t so outlandishly complicated that one would just give up and play approximate rhythms and pitches (this happens more than one might suspect – but that’s just between us, ok?).
We were then joined by the violinist Jennifer Koh (Jenny, as she became known to the orchestra) for two works: Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, and Béla Bartók’s First Rhapsody. I have always reserved a
special place in my heart for the Barber – it’s such a well-crafted piece, so lush and emotional – sentimental, even – and yes (as Gregory noted) perhaps even a bit cheesy (in the best sense of the word). Jenny tore into the piece with her usual combination of intensity and sensitivity, and really brought out its more anguishedqualities for me for the first time. Also noteworthy were principal oboe Martin Hebert’s beautiful solo in the slow movement, and principal trumpet Jeffrey Work’s stentorian utterances in the second movement. The last movement is a moto perpetuo that sends both soloist and orchestra on a headlong rush to the conclusion, and Koh took a super brisk (at least to me!) tempo that kept the orchestra breathless. After intermission, she returned for the Bartók, which is a charming collection of folk tunes that Koh played with great delight and physical activity. My only sadness was that there was no time for an encore.
The concert ended with Dvorak’s great Seventh Symphony. Written after Dvorak had heard Brahms’ Third Symphony (indeed, there is a brief quote of the opening theme of Brahms’ work in the Seventh), it is by far my favorite of his nine symphonies. Not the least because it has some great writing for the viola section. It is truly Brahmsian – except in the Scherzo, which is the apotheosis of Bohemian – you cannot help but smile when you play or listen to it! Acting principal flutist Alician DiDonato Paulsen was sublime in her solos, as was principal horn John Cox, and the entire brass and wind sections sounded great all evening.