Thursday, July 28, 2011

March 13, 2011 - THE SOLOIST

The second Allentown Symphony concert that I attended was as passionate as the first. They presented works by Bach, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Stravinsky, Ovens, and Pergolesi. Every year the Allentown Symphony Association holds an event called the Schadt String Competition. The winner of this event performs as a soloist for one of the regular season concerts with the Allentown Symphony. Jacqueline Choi won the latest Schadt competition for cello performance and was the star performer of this concert. 

Thanks to the brilliant man known as Don Franklin of the University of Pittsburgh music department, I became very fond of Bach and the general Baroque period of European art music (I will save the term western art music for that of the indigenous music of the Americas – stay tuned). It took many months of Dr. Franklin drilling fugues and cantatas into me before I started to enjoy it. I am not sure if it was a new realization or a growing masochism but either way my eyes light up to a pure blue whenever I recognize Bach's music. This performance opened with Bach's second Brandenburg concerto. I was really thrilled about this because the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra tended not to play any works by Bach. It sounded perfect! Every note was clear and vibrant. A very intimate connection was established with the audience due to the small group of players and exceptionally familiar music. The clarinetist in particular spoke to me with his performance but it could have just been my emotional attachment to clarinetists in general. Michael Toth was a delight on the harpsichord. I met Sir Michael Toth at some place or other prior to this concert and instantly liked his personality but I had an even better profile of him after this performance. I find that a personality is much more clear when you see that individual immersed in their natural artistic state.

Ms. Jacqueline Choi stole my heart with her performance of Tchaikovsky's “Variations on a Rococo Theme.” I could not believe that anyone would be able to make me truly enjoy a Tchaikovsky piece. I do not hate Tchaikovsky's music but I never care to seek it out. Alike to Dr. Franklin opening my mind to the baroque, Choi forced me to enjoy Tchaikovsky. Impressions are dangerous. Infatuations are much worse. Sheila Evans, the executive director of the Allentown Symphony Association, introduced me to Ms. Choi after the performance. Despite the fact that I only spoke with her for five to ten minutes, I felt like I learned a vast amount of information about who she was. Jacqueline's speech patterns reflected her strong will, her tenacity, her moral beliefs, her attentiveness to others, and her modesty about her supernatural abilities.

I sent JC some questions by email that she was gracious enough to answer. When I had met her she mentioned that she loved choral music and she revealed to me in email that her favorite living composer is Morten Lauridsen. It was obvious to me that she gave special notice to the human voice during conversation so after the initial shock, it made complete sense to me. I asked if she planned to compose music because I tend to encourage all musicians to compose (I swear that it is the most fulfilling musical activity!!!). She gave an answer that could be summed up to the unusual English word known as “maybe”. When asked about her future plans, Choi responded:

I'd like to take the highest possible musical education that I am getting and bring music into the everyday lives of people, and help move souls in a tangible way, whether it be in the small elementary school classrooms in the Bronx or on the stages of Carnegie Hall. I think teaching and performing, when combined in creative ways with genuine intentions, can be used to make a real difference in the lives of others, which I believe is my responsibility and role as an artist.”

She went for the kill. I have been metaphysically abused into submission. Respect. The concept of an artist's “responsibility” caught me off guard. I read this, paused for a moment, and found no place to fit it into my world view. I cannot remember the last time in my life when a living person (in contrast to Aristotelian and other past philosophical exclamations) was able to stun my mind for a second. Contemplate.

The Sibelius, Pergolesi, and Stravinsky pieces were generally not memorable from this performance. I foresaw that possibility from Sibelius and Pergolesi but I am rather fond of Stravinsky. This piece was the exception. I will speak no more about this half of the concert.

Doug Ovens was the other major highlight of this concert. It felt like I had been waiting my entire life to meet Sir Ovens. He was kind and friendly when I approached him before his piece was revealed. There were aspects of this conversation that I recorded. First, he is a fan of Edgard Varese (score!). Second, he was a rock drummer in his teens (2 points!). Third, he recommended a piece of music that inspired him. This was Bela Bartok's Sonata for 2 pianos and percussion. “Endless Possibilities” was the living entity that Ovens engineered. A powerful statement was made. The horns engaged and included me (horns are another thing I generally do not desire). At times the tune was a bit jarring, which is exactly the way I like it! I could tell that this man truly grasped the personalities of each instrument that he used. Ovens can hear exactly how the instruments collaborate within the physical sound space that they inhabit. Was it worth the wait? You bet your sweet gluteus maximus it was. Now I demand performances of his electronic music. Classical musicians and composers frequently exhibit fear of the synthesizer. This is why I have become rather interested in Sir Ovens. Until next time … I will be writing electronic music.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

February 13, 2011 - CARMEN

In the afternoon of February 13th, 2011, I attended a performance of Carmen at Allentown Symphony Hall. This was the first performance I had seen by the Allentown Symphony Orchestra. Coming from the city of bridges, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I had high expectations from orchestras. In Pittsburgh I had the privilege of seeing both the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the University of Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on a regular basis. I had resigned myself to the belief that living in a smaller area would subject me to a mediocre orchestra. This was positively not the case. Yes, it is true that the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is nearly unrivaled but the Allentown Symphony Orchestra was a collection of marvelous players. They were directed by a strong and courageous conductor by the name of Diane Wittry.

The concert did not delve directly into the Carmen performance. It began with a fanfare piece by sir Larry Lipkis. Upon arrival to this new land, I sought out the local university composers to attempt to understand what they were up to musically. I had met Larry Lipkis and sang with him a bit before hearing his new piece. Needless to say (so why am I saying it???), I was anticipating this work for several weeks. “Maestranza” functioned as the name of the accomplishment. This “Maestranza” positioned some of the musicians through the concert hall to create a different spatialization effect of sound direction. Ms. Wittry would turn around to conduct the musicians standing in the seated sections (musicians often have trouble conforming to the etiquette of our society). Melodic principles in the musical speech were beautiful, timeless, new, and somehow simultaneously friendly to the ears of the audience. If I had to use one word to describe the piece it could only be shortsweetgorgeousintense. Despite what you may infer, I do not use this word frequently.

Carmen livened the audience with the very first beat (of a measure somewhere in the piece). I was more than impressed with the talent of the singers as well as the orchestra. These musicians appeared to be truly dedicated to the pieces that they were currently performing. Dedication to the repertoire is one of the most desirable traits from the perspectives (often subconscious) of the audience members. In addition to the choreography, there was a nice visual aspect to the performance with three screens set up. One screen had projected images and the other two had translated lyrics for the audience to better understand the storyline. Act II caught my attention the most in terms of the musical attributes. Overall, it was very entertaining which is saying something because Carmen is not a work that I would normally care to see.

My first experience at Allentown Symphony Hall exceeded my expectations and left me smiling. Nothing could have been better than learning that I still have the opportunity to see a great and spirited orchestra in a significantly less populated area. The design of the hall was beautiful, Diane Wittry showed great personality in her craft, and the audience had a touching reaction at the end when the gave a loud standing ovation like no other. Needless to say (nevermind)...

-THE End (not just any end)