Thank God! Orchestra Doesn't Play Strauss

Review: ISO's guest artists cast spells with enchanting classics
Jay Harvey, Indianapolis Star, Oct. 15, 2011

I love "guest artists"! And who doesn't love magic.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times...if only classical music would resort to black magic...

Music associated with enchantment begins and ends this weekend's Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra concerts, but the way the program's other major work was performed Friday was no less enchanting.

Perfect.  Enchantment associated music, other major works that are enchanting too...and to think some people think orchestra programming has become stale.

But this makes me wonder...what is 'enchanting' music? Google images knows everything, let's ask them!

figure enchanting: Oh, dear God. No!

Jonathan Biss, Bloomington-born and on his way to becoming world-renowned, played the solo part in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat...

Okay, so was this the enchantment asscoiated music, or the enchanting music? I actually thought this would be more obvious. Silly me.

...with an elegance that didn't get too lofty to convey emotional engagement.

It's a tough balancing act, all that elegance muddying up the emotional engagement.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, just leave the elegance at the door. It's just so damn elitist.

His generally crisp, even articulation never overcame his focus on tone, which had a rounded, singing quality even in leaping passage work.

Wait, crisp articulations and rounded, singing tone in the same performance!?  And an elegance that didn't screw up all that emotional stuff? Get the fuck out!

But why, oh why, must two positive attributes of piano-playing (good articulation and focused tone) be mutually exclusive? Thank god for players like Jonathan Biss, who defy the laws of music criticism and are the exception that proves the rule.

I wonder what makes him such a great pianist.

A thoughtful artist with lots of individuality to bring to the classic repertoire, Biss crafted a first-movement cadenza that blended youthful vigor and studied reflection, its resonant climax aided by abundant pedal.

If I've said it once...more youthful vigor and abundant pedal, please!

The slow movement had just enough reserve as its delicate song poured forth,...

Yes...er...uh? Wait...reserved what?

...with the piano's quiet, single-line outburst near the end filling the hall. The consistent brio and polish Biss applied to the finale...

I know, seriously. Someone really should edit those changes into Beethoven's score. I know he's the "greatest composer of all-time", but he really should know better than to leave the brio and polish out of this finale.

I mean, how else is he going to produce an ovation?

...produced a slow-building but insistent ovation...

See. Were they standing?! I sure as heck hope so if they expected to cause a spontaneous (completely unplanned) encore.

...that resulted in an encore: the fifth of Beethoven's Six Bagatelles, op. 126.

If I've said it once...audiences love brio and polish!

figure Brio plaster polish: Who knew.

In the concerto, guest conductor Gilbert Varga kept the balance and coordination of the orchestra keenly matched to the soloist.

I should hope so.

This was no surprise,...

Oh really? Why?

...given the controlled grandeur and sweep of the program-opener: Mozart's Overture to "The Magic Flute."

Of course! If I've said it once, I've said it thousand times. If you can control the grandeur of Die Zauberflöte Overture, then you are more than ready for the balance and coordination of pre-19th century Beethoven.

But that opera, from which they performed just the famous overture, is so unconventional, what possibly could they pair it with on this concert? A conundrum that has plagued orchestras for centuries.

The unconventionality of that opera from Mozart's last year is nothing compared to the bizarre pantomime scenario for which Bela Bartok supplied a bristling score in the early 1920s.

Really? To which bizarre pantomime scenario are you referring?

Friday's concert ended spectacularly with the suite from "The Miraculous Mandarin."

Hmmm...now I'm a classical music lover, and I've heard of Beethoven and Mozart, and I've even seen Amadeus. So I consider myself an expert on The Magic Flute, and that opera has a guy dressed up as a bird. That's pretty crazy.

figure adult man dressed as bird: See. That opera is pretty silly. Wait...is that a...nipple?!

What's this Mandarin guy got?

In the story line, some roughnecks commandeer a young woman as sexual bait, forcing her to lure visitors to a seedy apartment.

I'm pretty sure most of Mozart's opera are about the same thing. Basically.

Two hapless men are ejected for insufficient funds, and then the title character proves too much to handle, in ways the complete score details.

Two men kidnap a woman into sexual slavery, but their plans are thwarted when the their home is foreclosed on?

Banks...always screwing the little guy!

Wait...this story sounds familiar.

Are these two hapless men the Tim Conway and Don Knotts to the Miraculous Mandarin's orphaned kids from The Apple Dumpling Gang?

figure two hapless men: "You know something, Amos? The Lord poured your brains in with a teaspoon, and somebody joggled His arm. I keep trying to tell you we ain't got no lead to throw, and no powder to throw it with. "

The suite is graphic enough so that it would be inaccurate to say the music transcends the sordid plot.

Uh.... Okay, so I totally agree that the music in a ballet should transcend the plot, although I'm certain I have no idea what that means. But how could you even tell if
the music is transcending the plot since you're only hearing the suite (without the whole ballet part)?

Or are you suggesting the music is too accurately depicting the graphic storyline? ...a concept I'm having a difficult time actually visualizing.

Oh bother.

Still, it's one of the milestones of symphonic modernism and received a brilliant performance Friday, with Varga and the ISO conveying every snarling or spooky twist and turn.

Sexual slavery aside, it's still a great piece. But "magic" flutes have nipples.

Obscure, early music by Varga's Hungarian countryman Bartok showcased principal guest concertmaster Alexander Kerr.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times...I love obscure, early music.

The first of "Two Portraits" features a ceaseless, impassioned violin solo that Kerr sustained beautifully.

He sustained the solo? Is this sustained as in maintained, or as in ratified?

The second one is mocking and vehement; it discards the solo violin -- the composer's payback for a love affair gone awry -- in a performance both idiomatic and picturesque.

I like my vehement mockingly picturesque, too!

Wait...what pieces were associated with enchantment?

figure concert: Whoa. Wait a minute, Doc. Are you trying to tell me that my mother has got the hots for me?