Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Grand Rapids Symphony 2/7/10

The dissonant music of instruments warming up comes to a sudden halt as the concertmaster arrives. After acknowledging the applause, he faces the orchestra and cues the oboe to sound its pitch. The rest of the orchestra tunes itself to the oboe and momentary chaos once again ensues. Suddenly, all is quiet. It’s a great, anticipatory moment with everyone waiting for the maestro to appear and the concert to begin. A violin soloist walks out followed by - wait, what? That’s not David Lockington. Having only skimmed the program beforehand, I was surprised by Larry Rachleff, who is apparently a popular Guest Conductor holding Musical Director positions in Rhode Island and Houston, Texas. He was great to watch and is the Gene Kelly of conducting to Lockington’s Fred Astaire. Sometimes with only a tip of his head but more often with his entire body, his direction was dramatic and physical, including animated facial expressions. At the conclusion of the concert, rather than Lockington-like gracefully pointing to acknowledge particular players, Rachleff was down among them, urging them to rise for applause.

The 25-year-old, Augustin Hadelich, starred in Beethoven’s Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra. Simply put, he and his violin (a Stradivarius) were amazing. After the overwhelming response to his performance, Rachleff whispered to him and indicated to the audience that we’d get one more. The short encore was Caprice No. 17 by Paganini, and it beautifully showed his skill while also giving us a lovely musical work.

The next piece of the evening was Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in D Minor. During intermission, I read the program notes, which were fascinating regarding the composer’s intentions and the Stalinist Russia’s immediate, and incorrect, interpretation. To emphasize this dichotomy, Rachleff took to the microphone beforehand and briefly reiterated the program notes. (It would have been interesting to hear this piece without the background knowledge and then listen again after the information to see how its impact and one’s interpretation might have differed.) Plaintive melodies, militant sections, and themes reflecting anger and sadness are all apparent in this magnificent work.

Being seated close enough to see the music on the stands, I’m always aware when the end is near. And all but the very front rows can see the percussionists stand to attention to indicate something big is coming. It makes it harder to become totally lost in the music but the benefits of live music performance still outweigh the negatives - like ritz-cracker-eating-lady, this time sleeping heavily, along with her husband, who periodically noisily woke up. This couple provides something new at each concert, and our group of four now vies for the seats farthest away from them. Tails, you lose.