what’s good?

There’s a common misconception – a myth, really – that “great” orchestras play well for every conductor, in every situation.  It’s even got some traction in the realm of the orchestral musicians (most particularly in so-called “great” orchestras).  I’ve heard, during my years in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia, many incredibly sub-par performances, both with their music directors and with guests.  It’s not just a case of “garbage in, garbage out”, either.  Sometimes a conductor doesn’t bring their A-game, sometimes they do, but the orchestra doesn’t agree.  In some cases, the orchestra respects the conductor, and goes along with what they want, even if it isn’t particularly inspired.

It’s hard to hear that one’s ensemble must not be that good since we didn’t manage to play a completely different interpretation of a piece than the conductor’s.  Please!  It would be so incredibly disrespectful to do that, and unprofessional as well.  In addition, it’s easy for a wind or brass soloist to shine under less than ideal circumstances: they’re playing by themselves – they don’t have to get 10 or 16 other string players to phrase the same way, and their power comes from their very prominence in the orchestral texture – in most cases the conductor has no choice but to follow them, and so the rest of the orchestra as well.

In the end, I guess it’s safe to trust the audience’s reaction which, for this series of concerts, was very positive (both in their reaction to the performances and the sheer amount of seats sold).  There’s more than one way to get the job done, and when done musically and with conviction, any approach can be valid.

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.

nytimes reviewer blogs about kaplan concert, review

Steve Smith, music editor for Time Out New York and a freelance reviewer who often writes classical music reviews for the New York Times, writes about his review of the Gilbert Kaplan led performance of Mahler 2 with the New York Philharmonic here.  Interesting reading, and it shows how critical a missing sentence can be in the course of composing a piece of criticism.  Plus it has the best ever blog post title: Todtenfubar.  Ausgezeichnet!

And, on a side note – our own OSO bass trombonist Charley Reneau posted a comment to Norman Lebrecht’s blog entry on his use of “trombone” rather than “trombonist” to refer to David Finlayson.  Major point scored, Charley!  And Lebrecht, to his credit, responded graciously.