Monday, May 14, 2012

Out of This World Finale: The Planets

My week of practically living at the TSO concluded on May 10 with the last in their series of concerts that included "space" music.  This one highlighted "The Planets" by Gustav Holtz.

The concert, conducted by music director Peter Oundjian, opened with "Canzon per sonare" by Gabrieli. It's a really cool piece just for brass.  Originally written for 4 trumpets and 4 trombones, it was performed by 2 horns, 4 trumpets and 2 trombones placed on either side of the choir loft!  It's an example of antiphonal music where a musical setting is played alternately by two groups, hence the placement of the instrumentalists.  It was one of the highlights of the evening.

Joaquin Valdepenas
Switching from brass to woodwinds, the next piece was John Corigliano's "Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra" with the solo performed by TSO principal clarinetist Joaquin Valdepenas.  The composer was in the house and was invited on stage to describe the piece.  His father was concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic and personally knowing the clarinetist, Stanley Drucker, and his skills Corigliano decided on a piece that used the entire orchestra, had an unprecedentedly difficult opening cadenza and a slow movement filled with emotion involving a duet between concertmaster and soloist.  Apparently when first presented to Mr. Drucker he looked at the opening, closed the score and said "I can't play this".  Obviously he learned it, and with something like 150 notes in the first few measures (I haven't seen the score, this was the comparison given), it's become something like running the 4 minute mile...once one person has done it everyone wants to.  Mr. Corigliano said he's been in universities where students will stick their heads out of practice rooms and say "listen to this", then play the opening cadenza.

It's an interesting piece.  There's a lot going on and it fit my definition of "good contemporary music" by having enough there I'd listen to it again, however I was really more engrossed in watching Mr. Valdepenas play, what quality of sound over ALL registers.  The final movement continued the antiphonal theme by having some of the brass (at least 3 of the horns and likely the trumpets) separated from the orchestra.  In my section of mezzanine we had a French horn player at the back.  Definitely a different way of hearing things.  I expected to be deafened but sometimes wasn't even sure if they were playing.

While I wanted to hear the clarinet concerto, my real reason for going to the concert was "The Planets".  Pretty much every year in high school our band teacher would pull out "Jupiter", we'd badly sight read through it (as I recall the clarinet fingerings in the opening were rather tricky) and she'd collect it and put it back on the shelf.  Such a shame really, because I think with some work we might have gotten in playable.  The centre slow section always went better than the beginning :)  Going back even further my first memories of "Jupiter" was at the Ice Show one season at Canada's Wonderland.  I believe it was a pirate theme routine that used the music.  Wow, useless information, think what important stuff I could remember if I could forget things like that!  Point being, the piece and I have a history and I really like it.  However, I've never heard all seven movements (Earth is excluded and Pluto wasn't a planet in 1914-1916 when the piece was written and interestingly enough has recently been removed from the list again).

It begins with "Mars: The Bringer of War", then a very contrasting movement with "Venus: The Bringer of Peace".  "Mercury: The Winged Messenger" is light and peppy and probably my second favourite.  Then is the famous "Jupiter: The Bringer of Jollity".  Things slow down dramatically after that, and since I was already tired, I found it incredibly easy to just close my eyes, enjoy the sounds, and started to drift off.  "Saturn: The Bringer of Old Age" is incredibly beautiful.  "Uranus: The Magician" picks up in tempo and has sounds that reminded me of the suite from "The Day the Earth Stood Still".  Neptune has always been my favourite planet and "Neptune: The Mystic" is slow, calm, and relaxing, but perhaps since I'm not as familiar with these last few, they tended to blend into each other.  The conclusion of Neptune with the ladies chorus singing offstage and slowly fading away as the door to the stage is closed gave the feeling you were floating away the with the voices.  Unfortunately I couldn't just float back home to bed, driving required waking up again.

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