Monday, March 29, 2010

Grand Rapids Symphony - 3/27/10

The concert began with “Don Juan” by Richard Strauss, and the program notes (by John Varineau) were most helpful in interpreting and understanding this lively piece. The music describes Don Juan rushing from one love to another, and also how he experiences each of these loves. This was great musical story-telling.

Next up was Midori, playing “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra” by William Walton. There aren’t a lot of people who get away with being known by one name (Cher, Madonna, and no, not you Lindsey Lohan), and this “rock star” of the classical world obviously deserves her one-name fame. She was magnificent playing this difficult concerto. But we all appreciated the performance skill more than the music itself. Also, Midori’s dramatic and very active movements proved to be a distraction. In this instance we concluded we’d be better off listening to a recording to fully understand the music. There were magical moments, particularly the short “duets” with the harp and with the cello.

“Scheherazade” by Rimsky-Korsakov closed the program, and was our favorite of the night. It’s a wonderful story: Sultana Scheherazade saves her own life by telling the Sultan an interesting story each night. The Sultan is so fascinated that he postpones her execution for one more day, so he can hear another story (The Arabian Nights/A Thousand and One Nights). It’s a beautiful piece in four movements, and the violin solos represented the voice of Scheherazade (sweetly played by the concertmaster). The percussionists had a large role to play and spent less time sitting back in their corner. David Lockington then surprised all of us with a short, festive encore ("Wild Bears" from Elgar's "Wand of Youth" Suite, information courtesy of Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk).

Interestingly, the men of the orchestra always wear formal tuxedos while the women are required only to wear black. The result is wildly varying women’s attire: skirts, slacks, sleeves of differing lengths and styles, all in assorted shades of black and dark gray. It’s a superficial observation but more uniformity would make a more pleasing presentation.

And speaking of distractions, Ritz-cracker-eating people were with us again, which I will never understand. There were only three of us tonight so we had an empty “buffer” seat between us and our other favorite concert-goers, the sleepers. Only he dozed off this time and not for long periods of time. We thank the percussionists in “Scheherazade” for that.

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