Monday, November 20, 2006

Saturday at Symphony Center

'Concerto' composers offer refreshing view of outsiders

After a few months during which our only concert-going involved a certain creaky singer-songwriter, we were back at Orchestra Hall Saturday night, way up in the gallery for a program assembled by conductor Paavo Jarvi. The night included two concertos for orchestra, one by Kodaly and another by Lutoslawski, as well as Gershwin's piano concerto and an intriguing newer piece, Zeitraum, by Erkki-Sven Tuur.

The whole program was splendid, though the sonics up in the nosebleeds got a little muddy during Kodaly and had me worried that we were in for a troubled night. But when pianist Wayne Marshall joined the action for the Gershwin, the hall seemed to warm up; the piano sounded clean in the rafters and the jazzy piece--which left no doubt about its composer--seemed to win over most of the crowd, occasioning both an embarrassing post-first-movement burst of extended applause and a partial standing ovation at the intermission point.

But it was the crowd, not the hall, that detracted most from this experience for me. During Zeitraum, an admittedly challenging piece that played with concepts like fast and slow and quiet and loud, the loss of focus around me was apparent; the couple immediately in front of me started shuffling about, and the man kept looking at his wife to indicate his boredom. The piece was 15 minutes long! And constantly surprising at that.

Fortunately, Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra is too powerful to be denied. Its 32-minute playing time sailed by, with the CSO brass taking it by storm, the kettledrum showing off its might, and the strings playing for their lives. It was all I could do not to leap up and shout "Paavo!" at the end.

We go back next Saturday for Pierre Boulez's reading of Mahler 7. Don't be surprised if you see a part two to this post!

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