And Yet Another Orchestra Shows Incredible Balance

Another harmless review...but I'm not sure why I have to say this, but composers write the music, not the conductor, or the soloist, or the players. At a certain level of musicianship, the music isn't demonstrably more sad or powerful or jubilant. Tempos change, and articulations can vary...but these alterations are often slight. This isn't to say that the Berlin Philharmonic doesn't perform Beethoven 5th Symphony better than the Albuquerque Community Orchestra...they most certainly do. But the music...it's just as fateful in the beginning, and as triumphantly C major at the end. And it's been that way for 200 years.

So there.

Young pianist Yuja Wang conquers Rachmaninoff in terrific Oregon Symphony concert – orchestra at the top of its game
James Bash, OregonMusicNews.com, February 7, 2011

Ah, good, a sports cliche...now I know this will be thoughtful review.

Guest artist Yuja Wang brought her A game…

I’m going to admit it up front, that this I’m probably only bringing my C+ game to this critique.

But of course, you should still read on…

…to the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Saturday evening (February 5) at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall…

They have an Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall now? That’s convenient.

…and created an impressive debut with the Oregon Symphony in her performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto.

If only print newspapers had editors as attentive and fastidious as online editors…oh, wait.

Wang played this demanding work with incredible precision and artistic panache.

Panache is good. Precision…meh.

Her opening statement showed right away that she had power and finesse,…

Convenient then that Rachmaninoff put some powerful, yet finesseable music right up front.


My favorite part about the "but" construction in most of these reviews is the unnecessary juxtaposition of two usually positive things.

She was pretty but smart too.

….she excelled in creating the lush, rhapsodic atmosphere with a singing tone.

Her performance sounds dreamy…do you have a favorite part?

One of the most memorable passages…


…came in the second movement when she evoked a series of cascading waterfalls that opened onto a high plateau with an expansive vista.

She did what now? She evoked a waterfall? On a high plateau? With an expansive vista?!

Also, you said 'she'? Did the music not naturally evoke this image? If I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that her interpretation added waterfalls to the music?

She drew you a picture, right?

Maybe she could’ve lingered a little more here or there,…

‘Here’ or ‘there’? Are these real places, or are you making a sweeping generalization about the performance and hoping we just wouldn't care?

…but she is only 23 years old, and I’m sure that her interpretation will change in the future.

You're right. 23 year-olds don't linger as long as they should.

In support of Wang’s performance, the orchestra brought its A game as well.

So, we’re not grading on a curve then?

Any chance there’ll be extra credit on this concert?

figure bringing it: Joey Chestnut brought his A game when he downed 68 hot dogs and buns at the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest.

The series of duets in the first movement (flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon)…

Yes, duets. Can I just pick any two instruments from the list above for the duet? Or were there duets of every possible combination (not permutations, since order does not matter)? Meaning there were…(remembering 11th grade pre-calculus)…

figure combinations: How the fuck do you solve an equation with no numbers?!

10 duets!? That’s kind of a lot…at least for just the first movement.

… had balance and grace.

Can you really have grace without balance? Think about it.

At one point in the second movement, the orchestra snuck in…

Ooh. Nice imagery. I wonder how they snuck in.

…as if they were all wearing really thick socks.

Well, that is an effective way of sneaking. And I’m assuming they took their shoes off first, because, you know, that would totally negate the benefits of really thick socks.

figure snuck in: Hey! Wait a minute...how did all you people get on this train?

The then…

“The then”...

…played in a way that made a very gradual crescendo that showed incredible control.

Really? You must be shitting me.

And they did this in the second movement?!

The brass flared impressively in the third movement when the music went off to the races,…

Dog or horse races? There is a difference you know.

Oh, or were they people races? If so, did the music also take in the high jump and javelin competitions as well?

Or...and I dare to ask...were they...?

figure man vs beast: Stupid giraffe.

…and the overall effect at the end of the piece was jubilation from all corners of the nearly sold-out hall.

Four for four, huh? And what about the center of the auditorium, was there jubilation there too?

Wang responded with an encore, Rachmaninoff Vocalise (Op.34 n. 14).

No way an encore was preplanned. Way to go audience, your jubilation spontaneously created an encore.

The orchestra opened the concert with a superb performance of Johannes Brahms’ Tragic Overture. Again, the orchestra demonstrated incredible balance and articulate phrasing.

I’m just wondering to myself if balance is the sort of thing that I could ever describe as “incredible”.

Two of the horns and principal bass trombonist Charles Reneau made the sound magically decay during an exposed section,…

Magically? Did you expect the sound to extend forever?

…and the lower strings marvelously created a wistful mood towards the end of the piece.

A wistful mood not indicated in the score?

Under the direction of Kalmar, this piece became a real gem.

Otherwise it’s a pile of shit.

The orchestra also made a very strong case for Carl Nielsen’s rarely heard Symphony No. 6, aka the Sinfonia semplice.

A “strong case”? What an incredibly odd thing to say.

Are the Brahms and Nielsen generally accepted as crappy pieces of works, and the Oregon Symphony disagrees, bravely standing in direct opposition to common wisdom?

The music in this piece seemed to travel in numerous directions in a fascinating way.

I'll bet it was hard to keep track of all the places you were going.

figure traveling in numerous directions: A little free advice from Deliverance Unto The Lord, Inc.

In the first movement alone, the orchestra went from suspenseful super quiet state to an agitated, fast and loud one before settling into a soothing ending.

Wow. Sounds like some super calls from the orchestra. Why Nielsen composed that first movement without a soothing ending is beyond me.

The second movement had an eclectic, disjointed feel (in his introduction, Kalmar told the audience to picture a group of children waking up from a nap)…

Yes…okay. Children waking from a nap…I’m thinking some portamento in the strings…no, glissandi in the trombones!

In fact, no strings at all…for a short…no, extended period.

…that was punctuated here and there by glissandos from principal trombonist Aaron LaVere, and for an extended period only the woodwinds, brass, and percussion played.

Thought so.

The strings got things going in the third movement with tight ensemble playing.

What “things” specifically did they get going?

After principal flutist Rose Lombardo played a beautiful solo, the mood of the music became strident before downshifting to a solemn and slow close.

With all those "things going", I bet it was a quite a relief when the music downshifted.

The fourth movement featured a waltz that the cellos and double basses usurped for a while until other themes developed and were exchanged seamlessly between sections.

You might say that the cellos and basses usurped that melody like Ahaz usurped the throne of Judah from his father Jotham, if I might be allowed a bit of biblical humor.

Gordon Rencher played a charming passage on the xylophone before the violins launched into a series of skipping phrases.

Where are you going with this? Are you under the impression that there are people for whom charming passages and skipping phrases might make them come to the concert? Or do just prefer to give anecdotal snippets instead of any substantive review?

The piece ended with the bassoons getting the last word, and that accented the overall whimsical nature of the piece.

Oh, those bassoons – can they not be whimsical?

I hope that the orchestra plays some more Nielsen in the near future.

Me too. But you’re not assuming that all of Nielsen’s music features whimsical bassoons, authoritarian lower strings, and manic mood changes, are you?

[Note to readers: I added the word "magically" to this review -- in a vain attempt to describe the decayed sound that Charles Reneau made.]

Well, why don’t you at least try, because, I’m not sure magical even begins to add to our understanding of how his decay might have differed from your standard decaying sound.


Sator Arepo said...

Good crap is that a terrible article that has it all. Vague, fluffy descriptions that could apply to anything, praise heaped upon adulation heaped upon praise, and not a trace of copy editing anywhere in sight.

It's got a good beat but you can't dance to it, as a wise man once said.

James Bash said...

Hi Gustav,

Sorry that my critique offended you. I will try to improve.

- James

Gustav said...

James- You did not offend. I hope you can understand our goal here at Detritus. And despite our sometimes flippant tone, we do understand how difficult a job you have. So while I am criticizing, I don't mean it personally, but simply wishing to elevate the level of discourse of music in our culture. I am not trying to take a position of authority but, as is always our goal at this site, simply wish to start the discussion, even if somewhat inarticulately. So in that spirit, please feel free to disagree.

I do wish you the best in your future reviews.


James Bash said...

Thanks for your explanation and wishes. In the meantime, you might find this article on opera criticsm interesting:

Gustav said...

An interesting article, indeed. I guess this speaks further to how the composer seems to have fallen in our esteem. Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi, Puccini; apparently these are marketing gimmicks more than anything else.