Friday Quickie: Performance took the miraculousness to a new level

I'm pretty sure there are rational explanations for most of the review that follows. But just in case, I think we need to set some ground rules. Some simple guidelines to help us get through the perfunctory introduction and description of standard works of music: 1) They aren't miracles, and 2) orchestras do more than "offer accounts" of said music, but less than rewrite the emotional content of the music.

Yes, I think that's a pretty good start.

Review: Young Spaniard leads ISO through a fine program
Jay Harvey, Indianapolis Star, March 5, 2011

A young conductor with an adventurous…

Ooh… “adventurous”. I am a fan of adventure, so consider me very excited.

…resume is on the Hilbert Circle Theatre podium this weekend, putting the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra to the test with a couple of challenging American works.

Challenging? American? Hmmm....

No worries...still excited.

But there is more than just the bracing novelty of hearing John Adams' "Lollapalooza" and Aaron Copland's "Short Symphony" to commend this program to the public's attention.

I object to the classification of either of those works as novelty. Especially the Copland…I mean it has the word symphony in the title – how much of a novelty could it be?

figure Lollapalooza Warning: Who knew Lollapalooza was written in Pakistan.

I’m pretty sure that no offense is meant to either composer (I think), but I really am not sure what to make of calling American compositions novelties.

But, that’s actually not while we’re looking in on this review…


After the orchestra “presented a cohesive performance” of Lollapalooza

The 1933 Copland work, composed just past the crest of his high modernist period,…

Okay, I’m not sure Copland ever had a “high” modernist period (well at least in the 20s or 30s). But whatever...

…is less calculated to provide fun for either an orchestra or its audience.

“Calculated to provide fun”? That’s an odd turn of phrase when reviewing a symphony.

figure calculated fun: Modernism at its most fun.

Are any of the Brahms or Beethoven (for example) symphonies calculated to provide fun, or do we just reserve that qualification for novelty works?

It contains some elements of the popular appeal that would soon come to the fore in major ballets such as "Appalachian Spring" and "Billy the Kid."

Yes, that’s kind of true. What exactly are those "popular" elements? And what makes up the rest of the elements in the piece? It’s post-“high modernist”, not very fun, and preceded his populist music, and...?

But playing it may tend to reflect a love of labor more than a labor of love.

Har har. That’s some good word play, but I have no idea what would make you say that. Do you have some reason to conflate his politics with this particular piece of music, or were you just looking for something topical, yet relevant to Copland to say?

If so, nicely done.

figure love of labor: Just as upset at all these fat cat teachers and their fancy 1993 Nissan Sentras as I am!

So, now that we've fully established the history of this great, yet novelty work...what kind of performance did the orchestra offer?

Despite some tentativeness in the fast outer movements, Friday's performance offered an admirable account, with some nicely pointed lyrical contrast in the second movement.

An admirable account. Excellent. This seems like a great program so far, offering us a cohesive performance, then an admirable account…what else does the ISO have to offer us?

Argentine pianist Ingrid Fliter, in a return ISO engagement, offered a pert, frolicsome account of Saint-Saens' Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor.

Offering a frolicsome account is a nice contrast to cohesive and admirable accounts.

She gave the homage-to-Bach opening music just enough seriousness,…

Because it’s not a novelty, right?

…then quickly focused on flair and agility, with stylish support in the accompaniment. The substance of the finale is spun out to tissue-paper thinness, but Fliter rendered it all with conviction. For an encore, she treated Chopin's "Minute" Waltz to a tempo massage that had it purring.

Tempo massage? Does that mean it went faster or slower?

Did the piece have a happy ending?

"La Mer" is always a miracle,…

Oh, I know I'm going to like where this sentence is going...a miracle you say? How so?

…in that audiences love it because of its reassuring picturesqueness, despite the radical nature of Debussy's harmonic and melodic language.

Radical? Are you sure? Perhaps (and that’s a big perhaps) it was radical to the audiences around when it was first premiered, but the piece begins quite convincingly in b minor and spends most of the first movement in some variation of 5 flats.

In fact the whole piece is anchored in some tonal center.

The music does drift harmonically quite a bit at times, but radical…I think might be overstating it just a tad.

But more importantly, it's a miracle if someone likes music with "radical" harmonic and melodic languages?!

Friday's performance took the miraculousness to a new level.

This might be my favorite sentence I’ve read in a review in a long time.

So, did they perform the piece with extra radical-ness in the harmonic language?

Heras-Casado drew from the ISO an incredible suppleness of response. He isolated certain details with crystalline clarity, but the piece's momentum wasn't disturbed by anything too finicky. Tempos were flexible and related logically to one another.

See, I thank Debussy for this, and more thank the conductor more for the gentle massage.

And the performance was emotionally moving to a surprising degree.

That is a miracle.

figure my breakfast: Also a miracle.


Tod Brody said...

First let me say that I love your work. And the reason I love it is that clearly, to you, words count, and have meanings that are not arbitrary, or made up on the spot. I especially enjoy the way you take what have become standard usages, but are really lazy ways of saying nothing, or very little, and poking a particular kind of fun at them. (In this review "offering an account" led you to some nice riffs.)

But...since words do count, I am going to take you to task for your objection to referring to a performance of Copland's "Short Symphony" as a "novelty". First, let me point out that the reviewer didn't say the piece was a novelty, but rather referred to "the novelty of hearing" this work. The primary definitions of "novelty" are concerned with newness, recentness of origin or of introduction. As a classical music listener for going on 50 years, and as a professional performer of classical music, I have never heard, let alone played, this work. To me, a performance of it would definitely qualify as novel, hence the experience would contain novelty. Just sayin'....keep up the great work!

Tod Brody

Gustav said...

A very good point, Tod. Rereading that part of the review, I can see that is probably what the reviewer intended. However, the word novelty still strikes me as derogatory, even if describing underperformed, new or rare repertoire. I do accept, though, that is probably just my own feeling. Your point is well-taken, sir.

On another note, you are right about the Copland symphony. I find it surprising that the Short Symphony has received so few performances. Checking the League of American Orcehstra repetoire reports from 2006 to 2009 (3 full seasons), the Short Symphony received only 1 performance (by the SF Symphony). For shame...it's a great piece. Btw, Lollapalooza had 2 performances in that same stretch.

Thanks so much for the keeping us honest and for the clarification, as well as for the kind words.

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