Welcome back to another Tuesday of concert reviews. After the abomination of horns that severely marred Mahler’s fourth, I was pleased to be sitting in front of the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra again. Heard their Mahler before.
It was some Lexus-sponsored program or something. I really only bought the ticket because I saw Liszt’s E major concerto and Sibelius’ second symphony on the program.
I was concerned the program had changed or I’d bought the wrong ticket when I saw a cellist featured on the program that Saturday night. I was sick, but wasn’t going to miss the concert. I was sitting way up in the upper balcony in kind of a chilly sweat, but it was okay. No one bothered me. Turns out there was more to the program than I thought, which explained the extra soloist.
The program was as follows:
Mozart’s overture to Figaro
Saint-Saens cello concerto no. 1 in Am
Liszt piano concerto no. 1 in E
Sibelius symphony no. 2
I was quite pleased with the extra surprises on the program, and had some hopes of running into the ESO’s director on my way out of the building when he went out for a smoke. It happened last year after Mahler 5. He wasn’t in attendance.
The Mozart piece was typically overture-like, a crisp amuse to the beginning of the feast to
follow. It was short, fun, and very well received.
follow. It was short, fun, and very well received.
Next came the first of two concerti, the Saint-Saens, which I know nothing of and had never heard. The cellist looked to be very young and to everything I could tell, he did a wonderful job. While having never heard the piece, the virtuosity it demands is readily apparent, so I was impressed.
Next was the Liszt, a piece I am very familiar with, but had never heard live. As mentioned in last week’s post about Mahler 4, it is often necessary to adjust your palate and expectations in a live performance when you’re used to hearing Martha Argerich and the London Symphony.
This soloist also seemed quite young, and the Liszt is a wonderful piece. We’ve talked about it before, but it’s great to hear and see it live. In the audience were many 60+ ages viewers. Listening to the piece’s polished recording from headphones at home is one thing, but when you’re in an auditorium full of grandparents and see what it takes for a pianist to perform this kind of piece, you begin to understand more clearly what it may have been like to hear such raucous music for the first time when this piece premiered. In contrast with the Mozart overture and even the Saint-Saens piece, this is radical. Saint-Saens can even attribute much of his innovation in this concerto to his contact with Liszt: the cyclical one-movement structure with three distinct but highly-interconnected sections.
Liszt’s own concerto, though, even though written decades before the cello piece, is inventive and innovative and even shocking in some ways. I wondered what the AARP-aged audience thought of this piece. Were they used to something more prim and traditionally “classical” (a Mozart concerto, for example)? Or was this all noise and bombast to them? It was a treat to hear a live performance. The soloist did an exceptional job.
Lastly was Sibelius 2, one of my favorite symphonies (although still overshadowed by two other great second symphonies, the greatest, Mahler’s, and another fantastic, Rachmaninoff’s).
This is one I have many many recordings of, all slightly different but very polished, and as much as I enjoy the ESO’s performances (and this one was great), they’re not Berlin or Gothenburg or New York. That’s not meant to be a critical statement. It still gave me chills. By that point, however, I was somewhat exhausted from having been out of the house. I enjoyed the piece, and throughout the performance thought of what Sibelius must have been feeling and wanting to say, Finnish independence and all that.
The greatest luxury of hearing a live performance, of being there, is more than the hearing, more than the seeing. Both of those can (excitingly) be done on YouTube with fantastically recorded performances of some of the best ensembles and soloists and interpreters in the world, from the best angles, better than any seat in a hall.
And the Sibelius performance got me to thinking about this. Why is even a sub-par live performance better than the best pre-recorded one? It is the experience. First of all, I love the smell of our concert hall. It’s the smell of old books and mahogany (or whatever other hardwood). It’s the fact that I get zero reception inside the hall, so I put away my cell phone and don’t worry about messages or taking pictures or communicating. It’s that the internal dialogue of what I should be doing now or in ten minutes or fifteen or 60 shuts off. There is nothing else to focus on, nothing else to think about, and nothing else to do than just be there, to pay attention to the music, to let it exist around you. It’s that mental state that I associate with a live performance (and also why people chattering or the sound of cell phones beeping or cough drops being opened are infuriating. Shut up and focus on this transient moment of peace).
Every performance is a moment in time, and each one is different, and that’s why I love attending. Even after having heard Sibelius 2 as many times as I have, these were the new thoughts that a live performance brings to mind.
Thank you, Evergreen, for your performance. I look forward to the next one.