Wednesday, October 10, 2012

At the Symphony; and a few movies



Recently I posted about the recurring topic of new attire for orchestra players and tried to make a point that there are already plenty of "visuals" to enjoy during a concert, if visuals are wanted. With the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra being my main destination for orchestral concerts (once again after too long a break on my part), how could I forget what might be one of the most famous visuals audience members enjoy at the Meyerhoff these days? Even before my break in attending BSO concerts last year, Maestra Marin Alsop already was sporting a shirt with red cuffs protruding conspicuously from the sleeves of her black jacket. Obviously -- well, I assume -- Alsop's wrists wreathed in red are intended to make it easier for the musicians to follow her conducting, but they are also a delight for us to watch from the audience's perspective.

Alsop conducted the first two concerts I attended this season, highlights including John Adams' "A Short Ride in a Fast Machine", Bernstein's "On the Waterfront" concert suite from the movie, Bernstein's "Kaddish" Symphony -- narrated by the actress, Claire Bloom -- Barber's Violin Concerto with soloist Gil Shaham and Copland's Third Symphony.

Last Saturday night's concert was conducted by visiting Markus Stenz. After the Rebel and Schumann of the first half, we were swept along by the BSO's traversal of Beethoven's Third. The Eroica -- one of my favorite symphonies, and is it all because of one moment in the final movement? Surely, there is much more to enjoy in this work, but the episode I can only describe as the Big Swinging Theme (I'm sure there is a more technical description possible) always grabs me in this symphony. Sometimes when I think of it, I imagine dancers wheeling around a ballroom during a more florid passage, but the BSO program notes find a more military air in it. Oddly, very oddly, this moment in the Beethoven Third is really but a moment. The composer, perhaps cannily or intentionally, kept this passage very short and then it's over as the ensemble progresses to the end of the movement. There is no repetition of it, as one might expect of such a theme in any other work, and maybe some magic is at work here. For all its brevity, this moment stays with me long after the music is over, and I'll never tire of it as I hear it again and again in later performances.

In upcoming concerts by the BSO, we will have a chance to hear a new symphony by contemporary composer Christopher Rouse, whose works are being explored in various other BSO concerts this season. Then another favorite symphony of mine shows up -- the Sibelius Second. Again, another indelible theme, this one particularly haunting, attracts me to this symphony, but this one gets built up and repeated. I've heard it so many times in recordings. Finally, I must hear it in live performance, and it will sound great in the Meyerhoff.

By the way, the finish of the Beethoven Third the other night was greeted by a standing ovation. We hear that standing ovations have become too common and, therefore, meaningless at concerts these days, but I don't think that was the case at the Meyerhoff on Saturday night.

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Currently reading (among other things): Charles Rosen's newly published collection of previously published essays and reviews, "Freedom and the Arts"... Watching so many great old movies, many with great scores: exploring the cinematic work of Powell and Pressburger; David Lean's movies based on Noel Coward; David Lean's "Hobson's Choice" featuring the magnificent Charles Laughton, Malcolm Arnold's score, and also in the cast a young Prunella Scales (for fans of "Fawlty Towers"); more movies starring Laughton.