Friday, October 13, 2006


Further adventures in embarassing autobiography: I've never been to a big boy orchestra concert. Sure I've seen the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra, and been friends with members of the Oshkosh Symphony Orchestra. However, the BSO is unavoidable an upgrade, no offense to members of the previous two ensembles. Thusly I'll attempt to step into far deeper waters than I've attempted before and actually review last night's concert. We'll see how that goes.

Autobiography point #2: My (second) roommate of my (first) senior year of undergrad had a tempting collection of classical music at the precise time I decided that I couldn't continue knowing nothing but guitar composers. I was given a brief guided tour before ransacking it when he wasn't in the room and one of the highlights was Ralph Vaughan-Williams's Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, the opening piece of the concert. I can't imagine a better introduction to a super-pro string section, especially one as tight and lush as Boston's. Any attempt to describe my reaction will probably be read as pithy hipsterati, so I won't try. The liner notes ruminated on Vaughan-Williams's use of a modal theme as a way to escape chromatic harmony while avoiding sappy Neo-Romanticism. It's a popular way to get out of sticky harmonic problems. (Ralph didn't get to hear his influence, he died the year before the album came out.) Also notably is that both this and the last revelatory song I geeked over are both based around the Phrygian mode. I have an affinity perhaps?

The rest of the program, Shostakovich's Cello Concerto #1 and selections from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, were new to me. Yes yes, boo away. It's much harder to review the performance of unfamiliar pieces, maybe they're supposed to sound like that? However, not to make it sound as though I'm making up problems to sound smart, but after the lush Fantasia it seemed like the strings had difficulty finding their teeth for the Shostakovich. Not to detract anything, it didn't sound bad as much as the string section has a distinct character and the extreme gear shift didn't play to its strengths. The opening of the second movement, a floating chord that falls apart into the grinding dissonance without losing its timbre, found the strings back at full power and it was sheer (appropriate) bloodlust from then out.

The soloist, Lynn Harrell, was unstoppable. He played with the rhythm of the triple stop stabs to give them the feel of a drag triplet, but the aforementioned tentativeness of the string section didn't let that play out to its full effect. The cadenza was stunning and the glock duet preceeding it were stunning, with (Mr.?) Harrell pulling out the pianissimo notes that in a good hall, as Symphony Hall is, sound like they're coming from behind you!

I know that I haven't said anything about the Prokofiev, but I'm a rookie at this you must realize. Well, it didn't have any narration. I'm looking forward to doing this again. While writing this post I remember most of the shrapnel I've meant to talk about the past few days, so expect another one soon.

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