Loren Tice, Lexington Herald Leader, September, 29, 2010
Defies? Really? I'm not sure you're using that word correctly.
Petulant children defy their parents.
Republicans defy logic.
But the Vienna Philharmonic usually exceeds expectations. You see most people naturally assume (based on their storied history and reputation) that they are a very good, if not great, orchestra. To defy that reputation, you have to assume that the Vienna Philharmonic purposefully played poorly.
Defy can mean exceed, but usually that applies to something or someone originally thought to be terrible at the given task. Kind of like those Police Academy movies. Rarely are great things/people that exceed our expectations described as "defying" them.
It's a small thing, but you know, we're just picky that way here at the Detritus.
But what do I know, maybe they sucked. Let's find out, shall we?
The great thing about expectations is when they are dashed — for the better.
Dashed? Again, that words has negative connotations when associated with something good.
Yes, this is odd. Explanation?
And they surely would make a poor match to one of the most exuberantly youthful conductors in the world today: Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel. (The Vienna Philharmonic uses only guest conductors.)
Yes...they would...make a poor match? Why is that again?
Count it a match.
Right. No time for explanations. I forgot this was music criticism -- just make unprepared, cliched assumptions and go from there.
So, how was it a match?
Dudamel was wise to never over-conduct.
Not that I disgree, but when would it be wise to "over-conduct"?
I think the words themselves suggest that one should never do that. It's kind of like over-cooking food -- I can't really think of time that I'd recommend that.
Not once did he subdivide a beat to be clearer.
Less clear conducting. Got it. That does sound better.
His trust in the cohesion of musicians he barely knew was total.
He trusted them to just play, even with his unclear conducting? I guess that makes sense.
And what he got in return was total commitment.
To his non-conducting? Okay, I'm a little confused.
Might you say that the orchestra defied him? Seeing as we don't know what that word actually means.
It is so rare to see every single musician dig in with so much conviction. Some expectations held.
Wait a minute. So, some expectations held. Did you establish which expectations didn't hold yet? Surely, we're getting to that part soon, right?
I think we should back up a minute and clarify ourselves. What are our expectations...generally speaking?
Dignity from central Europeans as opposed to informal directness of Americans.
I'm not sure with this exactly means, but it fits in with my cliched understanding of Europe as snooty and pompous and America as awesome and extreme (whooo!), so I'll go ahead and nod approvingly.
The sound of the instruments reflected that.
Reflected what? Dignity? What does that mean?
The string tone was not volume-rich and certainly not edgy, but it was unbelievably luminous.
Interesting. So this means, by logical contrast, that American orchestras are loud, edgy and unbelievably not luminous.
Sounds about right.
Woodwind tone was subtle, even thin, especially in the double reeds.
Hmmm. This sounds rather not good, as it were. Maybe I'm misreading you here...maybe the Vienna Phil did defy expectations.
What else ya got?
The flutes were so cottony smooth that they didn't cut through the texture well in solos.
Double reeds and flutes sucked. Check.
The grand exception was the first clarinet: a tone of gold, played by a man with music in his very bones.
In what part of the body are the "very" bones?
The perfect showcase for these instruments...
The perfect showcase for thin double reeds and flutes that can't cut through the texture?
...was the concert opener, Antonín Dvorák's Symphony No. 9, "The New World."
Oh, well...I didn't know it was Dvorak's "New World". Carry on.
As much as Americans love to claim this work — Dvorák wrote the piece in the United States — it is quintessentially European in sound.
Thank you. That's what I've been trying to say.
The symphony is often played with American brashness, but this reading was controlled excitement.
Controlled excitement. Sounds like this might have been part of Tanner Family Fun Night.
Blend and clarity of layers were in perfect balance. And so were the musical thoughts.
The musical thoughts were in balance?
Several times, a soft flute solo was answered by violins so caressingly it was like willow branches bending over lovers. Now that was Dudamel's doing,...
Are you sure it wasn't Dvorak's doing?
...and he indicated it with typical understatement.
Dudamel? Typically understated?
I thought his style was too undignified for the Vienna Philharmonic, which I assumed was because he was typically not understated in his conducting.
Oh, he could be a viper with his baton.
An understated viper...
The very next moment was an explosion that was riveting in its contrast.
And this wasn't in the score?
But there was not a bit of the showboat in his gesture. That shows respect for the orchestra.
You thought his respect for the Vienna Philharmonic was in doubt?
Are you suggesting that Dudamel doesn't respect the LA Phil, or any of the other symphonies he guest conducts?
All bets were off for the first selection after intermission,...
Really? Wow, what sort of brash, over-the-top piece do we have next?!
...Leonard Bernstein's Divertimento of 1980.
Oh. A Divertimento? A divertimento with a "Turkey Trot"...all bets were off?
[btw, I love this piece...it's just not an "all bets were off" type of piece. It's...you know, a divertimento.]
The orchestra's personality did a complete about-face. The extrovert Bernstein, with his fabulous fanfares and peg-leg dances and naughty non-sequiturs, found plenty of gamers to match him.
Naughty non-sequiturs? I love those...let me give it a try.
Perhaps the jazz riffs could have been more down and dirty.
But you had to love Dudamel's Charlie Chaplin conducting style.
I don't know what this means, but you're right, I do have to love it.
Two Maurice Ravel pieces topped off the evening, Pavane for a Dead Princess and Boléro, and you would expect French music to sit uncomfortably.
Oh, those Frenchman, and their uncomfortable music.
But exquisite subtlety was back. There was no over-emoting in the sad Pavane.
How did you know that I like to understand all music by virtue of some sort of trite, simplistic stereotypes? And you've made this real easy...American music, loud and brash; European music, boring and understated.
Do you happen to teach music appreciation at the local community college?
But we're getting a bit unfocused. We were talking expectations and the defiance of those expectations...
The beginning of Boléro was as courageously done as the beginning of the Dvorák symphony: almost inaudibly soft. Few conductors will try it. It couldn't have been missed, how much tension was built in expectation of the crescendo to come. That expectation was fulfilled.
"Fulfilled"? That's a funny way to defy an expectation.
And the ending was full-bore abandon — along with the audience's appreciation of it. Then what a delight in a Viennese encore treat, Johann Strauss Jr.'s Pizzicato Polka. It was, of course, tort sweet.