NSO’s 2016/17 Salon Concert

The salon concert is here! I had the privilege of attending last year, and as usual, it was a highly-anticipated event. It’s the NSO’s 30th anniversary this coming season, and we had the privilege of enjoying comments and thoughts from our very well-spoken music director, 呂紹嘉as well as little previews of pieces and composers that will make appearances throughout the season.

The lobby of the concert hall, all marble and chandelier and red-carpeted sweeping staircases, has really superb acoustics for what it is. One wouldn’t necessarily look at it and think this; it looks like an echoey, garbly place to perform any kind of music, but it’s really wonderful. The program was as follows:

The Brandenburg Concerto was a nice way to begin the piece, and I found myself thinking about the situations under which music like that (or I guess more like music of Haydn’s time) would be performed, not in a fancy concert hall with perfect acoustics, but (if not outdoors then) some grand room of someone’s palace, much like the lobby we were in for the evening. Three each of violins and violas, a few cellos and a bass gave us a limber but full-bodied Bach, with crisp, clear detail and liveliness that did not betray the fact that they’d just played back-to-back stagings of Verdi’s Otello. Busy folk.
Apparently organized in alphabetical order, we next have Bartok. I should have taken notes, because the maestro had spectacularly insightful, concise, and compelling things to say about many of the works and/or composers on the program. He made the argument that Sibelius and Bartok deserve much more attention even than they already have, since they’re ‘outside of the mainstream of the European, that is Austro-German tradition of classical music. Bartok was Hungarian, and he placed emphasis on the music of his homeland.’ Of course I’m paraphrasing, but he spoke with insight about what makes Bartok’s music unique, and then the third movement of Contrasts was played, an almost harrowingly-difficult, exuberant, exciting, technically challenging work for violin, clarinet and piano. Superbly well done.

Still in alphabetical order, we find ourselves at Beethoven. There’s a lot of Beethoven on the program this year. There’s the third piano concerto, and (in no particular order) the third, fourth, fifth and ninth symphonies, and maybe more… but, as the maestro said, we can’t drag the entire orchestra here to perform the Eroica, so they picked the Grosse Fuge. This was unquestionably the centerpiece of the evening. I’d chatted with my fellow concertgoer for the evening about the enigma of the fugue and how some people say the man was crazy while others consider it a work of supreme genius, and I was pleased that my sentiments weren’t too far off from those shared by the maestro, that music lasts, and while it may not be ‘pretty to the ear’, it is an experience, it has something to say that Beethoven demanded be heard, and that in itself is a compelling enough argument that it be performed, and it was breathtaking, the first time I’ve heard it live.

Moving quickly along now, we had a fantastic performance of the Much Ado about Nothing suite for violin and piano. Both Korngold’s violin and cello concertos are on the program this year, and the former will be played in the season opener by Leonidas Kavakos himself! Looking very forward to that. After that was Demersseman’s Guillaume Tell Fantasy for flute, oboe and piano, another interesting trio.

Finally, we had the announcement that as part of the New Year program this December, they will (hopefully) be staging what seems to be a world-first. Satie’s Vexations was performed (all 840 times) for the first time in an event organized/performed (?) by the one and (thankfully?) only John Cage in New York City, but the NSO is hoping to be the first to stage a performance of Vexations by 840 different pianists. I might have to get in on that. It’s one of the few things that might be within my abilities.

Finally we had selections from Puccini’s trifecta of operas Il Trittico, which is nowadays not often performed in its original, full form, but will be in the summer of 2017. Serious props to Fernando Wang, who was Cassio for two days in a row and still showed up to sing Avete torto from Gianni Schicchi.

All in all, the takeaway is that here in Taipei, we’re very privileged to have an institution as solid, both artistically and historically and professionally, as the NSO, who is able to put on fantastic operas, concert seasons, beautifully-designed program books, everything to a fantastically satisfying level of detail, and it feels (perhaps cheesily-sounding) like patrons are part of something, participating in the growth and support of this institution, of which it seems every attendee last night was equally proud to call their orchestra.

Bravo again, and see you in September!

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