The Long Road through Spain to Russia

“Houston Symphony takes the long road through Spain

Ah, yes. The long road through Spain. That sounds delightful. The sentiment is full of lazy, siesta-filled Mediterranian spirit. Surely there are tapas and tempranillos and a sense generally of unhurriedness.

The Houston Symphony's management may have survived paying overtime to its musicians by a whisker, but I sure felt the audience deserved some overtime compensation after the long slog through Thursday's Spanish-themed program in Jones Hall.

Or…not so much with the unhurried Spanish-ness. Fine. Surely the audience should be compensated for getting extra music to hear for the same price.

(Also: Fuck you Houston Symphony, for not paying your musicians for overtime.)

Somehow, an idea for a light, cheery season-ending program turned into a methodical no-stone-unturned traipse through a formula.

A traipse…through a formula?

It didn't help that guitarist Eliot Fisk was allowed to append his pre-intermission performance of Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez with two encores and blowsy gabbing. By the time the performance reached 10 p.m. there was still had a full work to go.

Read that again. …[T]here was still had a full work to go. The…what? Grammar…melting…

The first culprit was the full orchestral version of Manuel de Falla's ballet El Amor Brujo (Love, The Magician). Like many ballet scores, it has strong and weak moments.

As opposed to most music, or works of art, or anything, which do not have strong and weak moments.

As an opener it set a drowsy pace despite music director Hans Graf's sharply crafted and lovingly conducted performance (the essential character of his and the orchestra's work all evening). It was also difficult to hear the soloist, mezzo-soprano Katherine Ciesidecornski in the Grand Tier. She sang with style but not carrying power.

That seems fair…

Two sides of Spanish orchestral/solo music followed.


Concierto de Aranjuez clearly placed the guitar at the center with the orchestra skirting around the instrument and helping to deliver the timeless yet ever popular melody of the second movement. Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain used the piano as decor, always adding ambience even when it clearly had the lead.

Are…are the “two sides” using the…guitar at the center…and the piano…as décor? Huh. Clearly, two well-known sides of Spanish orchestral/solo music.

Fisk was in take-charge mood and performed forcefully yet gracefully.

Take-charge mood? Definite article?

Shai Wosner, the pianist in Nights in the Gardens of Spain, was a little too dutiful. Decoration that needed the flexibility of chant was too metrical.

“Too dutiful to the score” is what I think is intended. Which is fine, unless you think musicians should be dutiful to the score. I’ll let our composer-readers chime in on that.

Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnol was an abrupt change-of-pace as the ending work.

Change of pace, I think, should only be hyphenated when used as a compound adjective, and not when used as the noun, as in this sentence. But whatever.

It may have looked nice on paper, but it was out of place.

The piece looked nice on paper? Or the program, with a Russian finale to a Spanish concert?

The brazenly Russian music, which essentially was a miniature version of the composer's Scheherezade with plenty of percussion, didn't relate to much of anything that preceded it.

Why might it have looked nice on paper? Also: "brazenly Russian"? That seems odd, because the composer's name was Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

The performance of Capriccio Espagnol did earn lots of bravos and applause. They made me wonder, as I headed to the exit, whether the performance would sneak under the wire of contractual obligations. I think it did.

I really don’t know what this means. The “bravos and applause” made Mr. Ward wonder if the performance snuck under the “wire of contractual obligations”?

At least he thinks it did? What?

To conclude: the long road through Spain was too long, which traipsed through a formula, and ended in Russia, which looked nice on paper, but eventually snuck under the wire of contractual obligations, therefore the audience should have been paid overtime, but not the musicians.

Did I get that right?


Empiricus said...

RE: "brazenly Russian"

I think you may have slightly missed his intent. Because the concert was Spanish-themed, it was a change of pace that a Russian composer was programmed. Yet, it was still a Spanish-themed piece, Capriccio Espagnole, in keeping with the concert's theme. But it came off as Russian, in style, rather than Spanish, which might explain why it looked nice on paper, but not in execution of the concert's theme-like-having-ness.

Also, as far as the Houston Symphony/overtime bit is concerned, I think he was just showing his displeasure with the length of the concert, not that the Symphony actually didn't pay the musicians overtime. But, if I missed the joke, I apologize.

Lastly, I found Ward's "blowsy gabbing" a bit...well, I'll let y'all decide. Personally, I didn't know that word, so I looked it up in my trusty OAD. Here's what it said:

blowsy (adj. [of a woman]) coarse, untidy and red-faced

What's Ward saying about Eliot Fisk and his blowsy gabbing? I know him to occasionally sport a cravat, but...still.

Sator Arepo said...

Yeah, I got it, I just didn't like it. (The Rimsky. Besides, that picture is fun to look at.)

Also, the critic who gets paid to listen to music and write about it is almost sneering at the orchestral musicians who are denied overtime whilst he's forced to sit and listen to music for more than two hours straight. Boo hoo.

Also, I did not like "blowsy" but was busy. And then had to go to work. For more than two hours.

Anonymous said...

I won't presume to comment on the review, as I am less qualified so to do than both the author and his detractor. However, since the reviewer's grammar has come under fire here, let's talk grammar for a moment (yes, I know 'talk grammar' is problematic).
Tempranillo is the proper name of a grape. It should always be capitalized.
In the alleged sentence "Fuck you Houston symphony, for not paying your musicians for overtime" the comma is both superfluous and indicative of poor breeding.
When one writes "As opposed to most music, or works of art, or anything, which do not have strong and weak moments" one exposes an untidy mind. Why the agreement between "works" and "do"? Were this an actual sentence the error would be even more glaring; nevertheless "does" is clearly the grammatically appropriate word here.
Finally, "snuck"? Really? Used twice, to boot! Appalling.
For future reference, might I recommend a little less Tempranillo in the bloodstream before nipping about at the grammatical choices of others?

A Friend

Sator Arepo said...

Thanks "A Friend". Your eye is indeed fine. I made all of these errors trying to finish before...I had to leave. One further editorial pass was probably in order.

The grape name capitalization issue...is muddy to me, but I think you're right. The "Fuck You" in re: anti-union symphonies was probably written in anger and poorly considered. The last "snuck" should have been, I guess, "sneaked"? I'll check on that. I'm also a big fan of subject-verb agreement, which I failed.

Anyhow, you're right, if I'm going to nitpick grammar and such, I should be more careful.

Aaron said...

Perhaps the "melting grammar" was an allusion to Dali, in keeping with the Spanish theme of at least the first part of the concert.

Gustav said...

Wow. I had a whole comment ready to go, but Anon stole the show. "The comma is both superfluous and indicative of poor breeding" -- that was fantastic.

Anonymous said...

Had you responded to my observations defensively and/or angrily, I would have gleefully tightened the noose. However, you have in gentlemanly fashion acknowledged your error(s) and resolved to refrain from future hypocrisies.
In that selfsame spirit I am obliged to mention an important point neglected in my original post. You should know that I very much enjoyed what you had to say. It was witty, pithy, and seemingly critical only where necessary. Well done. I look forward to future reviewed reviews.