Thursday, May 10, 2012

Gershwin and Beyond

May 6 I was back at Roy Thomson Hall for Gershwin and Beyond.  It was to be conducted by Joana Carneiro however due to a shoulder injury she was unable to lead the series of two concerts.  Substituting was American Edwin Outwater.  He had conducted a concert earlier in the season I had wanted to go to but didn't so it was nice to have another opportunity.  Until I read his bio I didn't realize he's the music director of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony.

The concert opened with Bernstein's "Overture to Candide", which seems to be the selection of choice for opening light classics concerts.  As usual it was joyously played.  Really I don't mind if it's performed a lot, it's one of my favourites.

In the introduction to "The Chairman Dances: Foxtrot for Orchestra" Mr. Outwater explained it was part of John Adams opera Nixon in China.  It comes from Act 3 when the President and Chairman Mao, along with their wives are dancing, probably at a ball.  He described the piece as starting with a bit of important business going on, then switching to a classic 1950's Hollywood sound before concluding with percussion sounds reminiscent of an old record with the needle sliding off and up.  It was funny as the young conductor indicated "well that's what I've been told.  I don't know records." :)  The ending didn't really sound like the needle lifting to me, but maybe I just need to hear the real thing again for comparison.  The record I remember playing as a kid was You're a Good Man Charlie Brown and I think the old record and player is still around somewhere.

The first half ended with the always enjoyable "Rhapsody in Blue".  Written by George Gershwin I believe originally for 2 pianos, it was actually orchestrated by Ferde Grofe.  It's true that this piece has become widely recognized.  As Mr. Outwater said "people know it from all sorts of places, like the tunnel between Terminal 1 at Chicago's O'Hare; Neon and Gershwin you might say."  So true!  Admittedly when I haven't been in a hurry in Chicago I've enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the tunnel.  But it wasn't always the soothing, relaxing piece we consider it today.  In its day it would have had things to make the previous generation gasp.  The guest pianist was Todd Yaniw, who I would consider a prodigy having made his debut with the Edmonton Symphony at 13.  Now 26, he's recently received a Master's degree from Rice University studying with another TSO regular Jon Kimura Parker.  As always, it opened with the fantastic clarinet solo by YaoGuang Zhai.

O'Hare Tunnel
Opening the second half was a fanfare inspired by Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man", but written by Joan Tower and titled "Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman".  Back in March the Baltimore Symphony had a program which included both of these.  A good idea, although I think the "Common Man" would have overshadowed the "Uncommon Woman" merely by being more recognizable.  It was a good fanfare, one I'd like to hear performed again.

Barber's "Adagio for Strings" has been paired by the TSO with "Rhapsody in Blue" before.  It's always a stirring piece but it bothers me that people find the quietest pieces and moments within them to start coughing.  Someone should do a study on the reasoning behind why one cough triggers 15 more from other people around the hall.  I have to force myself to focus on the music, get sucked back into the beauty and try to ignore what's going on around me.  No one clapped though in the spot where there's a pause when people sometimes think the piece is over.

The finale was by Aaron Copland, "Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo".  As part of his intro, Mr. Outwater said something akin to the following "Copland's music is considered by conservative politicians in my country to be an example of pristine America.  I guess they didn't know he was a gay, Jewish socialist from Brooklyn!"

The piece is in four movements Buckaroo Holiday, Corral Nocturne (a pun on chorale), Saturday Night Waltz, and Hoe Down.  The first and finale are fast and light hearted and my favourites.  I haven't seen the suite performed before, but would love to again.  The audience clearly enjoyed it and applauded after each movement which was considerately acknowledged by the conductor rather than just ignoring it; the benefit of a casual concert I suppose.  There was even a burst of applause in the middle of Hoe Down, although the indication from the podium at that point was a skeptical expression as if to say "we're not done yet".  It was great to hear the audience enjoying it, and I'll guess the orchestra didn't mind too much, they had just yelled "yee haw" :)

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