A Tale of Three OrchestrasRead Now
It has been some time since my last post. I have had many thoughts to share but never the time to sit down and write. Now is the time.
Since January I have been to four orchestral concerts by three different groups. They all have been markedly different. Interestingly, the difference has been in the moment spent as an audience member in the hall taking it in and what my perceptions and expectations would be and what they were.
Trish and I have a small subscription to the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra. Earlier in December I heard their performance of Mahler's Fifth Symphony. It was billed as Edwin and Gustav. Edwin being Edwin Outwatter the orchestra's amiable young conductor. We also got to hear the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa during a vacation to the capital in March. We heard a Haydn symphony, Shostakovich Cello Concerto and Brahms Fourth Symphony. We were then back in Kitchener just last Saturday to hear a whole lot of J.S. Bach, Copeland's Music for Theatre and Cameron Carpenter's The Scandal with the composer on organ. In late February my mother and I attended a concert by the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra. We heard Sibelius Danse Macabre, Grieg Piano Concerto and Saint-Saens Organ Symphony.
Clearly the KWSO and NACO are in a different league than the CSO. The CSO is, as far as I know, entirely amateur, but I believe I enjoyed their concert the most. I am not meaning to sound snobbish in my statement but maybe I am. Were there mistakes? Absolutey. Were there tuning issues? You bet. Then what was it?
First off, I would like to discuss the two professional orchestras' performances. I am very much used to the KWSO and the way Maestro Outwatter works. He is very chatty from the stage and attempts a sense of informality at the concerts. All in all it works fairly well. Of the two concerts the second one -- with Cameron Carpenter -- worked a lot better though it may have been less ambitious. The Bach D Major Orchestral Suite and Ricicarre arranged by Webern sounded wonderful. The Copeland Music for Theatre was a real treat to hear. It is essentially a symphony dressed up in a jazz outfit. Carpenter was fun to watch but his piece was a half hour of well orchestrated trifle. In the end an entertaining evening easy on the ears and mind. I had more issues with the Mahler concert. Firstly, it came across as a concert all about Edwin Outwatter. The poster for the concert had photos of both Mahler and Outwatter. The way they were positioned it looked like old Gustav peering over the young conductor's shoulder. After a small piece by Schubert (Entr'act from Rosamund) we had a fifteen minute powerpoint presentation about Outwatter's love affair with the music of Mahler and the thematic elements of the symphony. Now I am all in favour of educating audiences but I personally do not care about his/her musical fantasies. Maybe it was the only way he could convince the board of governors to approve of his wish to program the piece. Now I am sounding a little glum here. The reason being I went away feeling underwhelmed. The performance was adequate. I have heard the KWSO perform Mahler a couple of times now and either I don't think they have what it takes to pull it off or I don't care for Mahler symphonies. I am beginning to think it is both. In summary for the KWSO the concerts were good. It is nice for Trish and I to get out and hear some music. In June I get to hear Beethoven's second piano concerto and Berlioz's Fantastic Symphony. I know the Berlioz like the back of my hand. I will fill you in on how it goes.
Now off to Ottawa. During the March Break Trish and I headed away together for a few days sans enfants to the nation's capital. On our last night there we took in the NACO conducted by guest Fabien Gabel with cello soloist Johannes Moser. This was old-school concert going. Not a single word from the podium. The orchestra looking very prim. Moser had his top button undone in a nod to informal hipness, but the soloist are allowed that concession now. He has nothing on Carpenter though who sported a Mohawk and wore tight fitting black shimmery pants. As I told Trish afterwards the image of Cameron Carpenter's tiny and sparkly rear-end mosying off stage after two encores is permanently burned into my mind. As for the NACO orchestra, their playing was beautiful. The Shostakovich rocked and the Brahms was sublime. Southam Hall has very cramped seating compared to Centre in the Square. But to tell you the truth I missed the stage chatter. There was something cold and detached about the whole performance.
Which brings me to the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra. It was in the sanctuary of Central Presbyterian Church. The audience members in the front row were pretty much reading the music on the stands of the string players. We were sitting in the balcony above the double basses because there wasn't enough room on the floor. The concerts are not ticketed. Admission is pay what you can. This is not the most ideal situation to be in. As mentioned earlier, the performance was rough in parts but the quality of the playing has grown exponentially. So what made it so enjoyable? The energy in the room and the passion of the players. I haven't been able to get to many CSO concerts but whenever I do I am always taken by the spirit of the band. I always try to convey to my students that what matters the most is the conviction you bring to the performance. Accuracy is very important or course but I prefer to hear a few wrong notes played musically than the exact ones as an after thought. Another advantage of the Cambridge concert was the intimacy of the performance space. It was almost like chamber music. I also cannot take anything away from the fact that this is my city's orchestra. Colleagues of mine were on stage.
The lesson I have taken from all of this is to be aware of your biases and perceptions. It is good to remind oneself to always go in with eyes and ears open.
10/28/2022 10:24:02 pm
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