Thursday, June 13, 2013

High and Low Guest Artists

On June 6 the TSO performed a concert titled Joshua Bell and Edgar Meyer, artists who play instruments at opposite ends of the sonic spectrum.  My reasons for wanting to go were to hear (in no particular order):
-  the acclaimed Bell who I'd heard about, including the busking in the Washington DC subway story
- "Appalachian Spring" because I like the piece and haven't ever heard a great recording of it
-  "Pines of Rome" because I heard the name of the composer, Respighi, mentioned in an interview and turns out this is one of his famous pieces.
The heart of the concert, according to the program, was the "Concerto for Violin and Double Bass" composed by bassist Meyer with Bell in mind.

The evening opened with "Appalachian Spring".  It was "wow" for me.  Soft and soaring in all the right spots.  The layering at the start of the strings and the winds was spot on.  I've never heard it clearly before because recordings are always so quiet I have to turn up the volume and then when the dynamic changes and the tempo picks up it blows you away, and not in a good way.  The balance live was perfect.  Associate Principal clarinet Yao Guang Zhai seemed to have a good time with the solos and I love that the "Simple Gifts" melody appears in the clarinet first.  In fact there were notable clarinet parts in every piece.

Bell and Meyer during the concerto (TSO photo)
The concerto followed with Meyer adding a bit of a casual flair to the evening dressed in shirt sleeves rolled to the elbows, bow tie and suspenders.  There was some dissonance in the piece, but enough to peak interest as to where it was going to go, and most often satisfactorily resolved.  I particularly liked the melodic theme and rhythmic drive in movements 1 and 3, named "Quarter Note = 135" and "Half Note = 80" respectively.  The theme from the third particularly got into your head and I heard people humming the theme at intermission.  Meyer's bass looked smaller than the others in the orchestra and had an extended finger board on one side allowing him to get to the upper end of the basses 6 octaves and into the register of Bell's violin part.  The middle movement was more reflective, fitting in that it was a memorial to a student they both knew at Curtis.

Post intermission Joshua Bell got his solo chance to dazzle in "Tzigane, rapsodie de concert for Violin and Orchestra" by Ravel.  Honestly all I know of Ravel is "Bolero".  This was completely different and Bell demonstrated his very impressive skills elegantly.

Finally, "The Pines of Rome".  Honestly I was expecting to recognize more.  I've had the same
problem with recordings of this as with "Appalachian Spring" since there is such dynamic contrast.  It involves a large orchestra; there were 8 basses, 3 trombones and 3 trumpets on stage plus another 2 of each above the choir loft.  There's something about a huge brass sound that's thrilling, particularly when it builds like the final movement "The Pines of the Appian Way".  I could have sat through the entire concert again right away.

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