Sunday, June 13, 2010

Season finale time, even for the orchestra

This past Friday night was our last Masters concert for the season, and the ESO definitely went out with a bang. The program was filled with five selections (including two in the second half, which is usually dedicated to presenting a single symphony). The orchestra was close to capacity for several of the pieces (i.e. lots of woodwinds, brass, harp(s) and percussion), and Marc-Andre Hamelin appeared as a featured solo pianist. To top it all off, the CBC was there recording the concert in order to air it on the radio later this year (the date was unknown as of Friday night).

So, what did the ESO play? They started off with a piece by their composer in residence, Allan Gilliand, titled Shadows and Light. This was quite a lovely selection with lots of colours and shades to the music, as the name suggests. It had several "shimmery" bits, where the strings played long, legato notes, while earnestly applying vibrato. If I remember correctly, I believe Mr. Gilliand stated that this was one of the first pieces he wrote after taking up his composer in residence post. This was followed by another Canadian piece, Fall Fair by Godfrey Ridout, which happened to have been broadcasted on the CBC that afternoon. Nonetheless, I was most happy to hear it again, as it's a very rousing sort of piece that puts me in mind of wide open spaces. Fall Fair was originally commissioned for performance at the 1961 United Nations Day in New York, NY. It is also one of the most well known and frequently played pieces in Canada.

After two, what I would definitely call "easy listening"*, selections came the Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings in C minor, Op. 35 by Dmitri Shostakovich. This is not for the faint of heart, or at least the fair-weather classical music fan. You can't just sit back and let this Shostakovich piece roll over you like those that preceeded it. This music is more likely to put you on edge, get you sitting at the front of your seat and maybe even wishing it was over. I don't think there's been a particularly listener-challenging piece this season (at least not at the shows we attended), so I was rather glad to hear this. I can't say I necessarily liked this piece, as I felt through most of it that the piano and orchestra seemed to be playing entirely separate selections, but I like to hear different things, unlike those in my collection. I was also excessively impressed with Mr. Hamelin and the way his fingers flew across the keyboard. Even though I took piano for many years, I know I could never play something like this, and definitely not with the competence he did. At times it seemed like his fingers jumped many inches above the keys and miraculously hit the right notes (although I suppose I might not be able to tell otherwise). If I did that I would get a random assortment of different notes every time.

After the intermission the audience was treated to a second performance by Mr. Hamelin. This time it was Richard Strauss' (not to be confused by Johann Strauss, the Waltz King) Burleske in D minor. There was much to do for the tympanist in this piece, which I must imagine doesn't happen too often. He started the performance, and I believe he was one of the last to finish. To be perfectly honest, I don't remember much of this piece. I'm not sure why it hasn't stuck in my memory, it's not at though I didn't enjoy it at the time, but it hasn't. Perhaps I should look it up in the future to remind myself.

The final piece of the evening was La mer (The Sea) by Claude Debussy. I seem to have a thing for water-related music as one of my favourite orchestra works is the Moldau by Bedrich Smetana. Perhaps there's something about the rolling, wave-like quality of both of these pieces that inspires me--not that I spend much time on either lakes or rivers, but I've always enjoyed water and swimming. At any rate, Debussy wrote this piece in three sections, titled: 1) From dawn to midday on the sea, 2) Play of waves, and 3) Dialog of the wind and the sea. I felt that these descriptions aptly depicted what I heard (although Edward Blackeman, a flutist from Debussy's time disagrees). When the first movement began the strings started by playing tremolo high up in their range, suggesting to me the dawning of the sun, to the luxurious long-bowed notes later on that suggested rolling waves over the sea. Overall, I enjoyed this piece, a great deal and thought it a very satisfactory end to the 2009-2010 ESO season.

Now Andrew and I are without a Friday night ESO concert until the Gala performance scheduled in October. I guess I'll have to make due with CDs and the CBC for now, until then.



*I don't mean to use "easy listening" as a derogatory term. I just mean to say that this type of music is more likely to be well liked by a wide range of people as it tends to be flowing and melodic.

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