Alive with Music

OK, so I go for the corny, million dollar phrases, but the title Alive with Music captures so much of what we strive for as musicians. Over the past half century, recordings have both stimulated and undermined the popularity of live classical music. On the one hand, recorded music allows ready access and exposure to music by those who might not have had the opportunity to hear much. I could ask myself, "Would I have become a clarinetist if I hadn't fatefully heard that recording of Robert Marcellus playing the Mozart Clarinet Concerto?"

However, recordings also create a false standard for live music performances. Current technology allows for recordings to be edited down to the level of single notes, so it is possible for all flaws to be removed from almost any recording before it is released. Granted, the music is still performed by live orchestras, but the drama of the moment, with close calls, near misses, and belly flops, has been removed to be replaced by the security of artificial perfection by correction. (I wrote an article about this subject saeveral years ago, called Music Recordings Byte Reality.)

What I am trying to say is this. Though the music may be the same, the difference between a live performance and a recording is as apples are to oranges.

Tonight, the musicians of the Columbus Symphony had a triumphant performance in Vets Memorial Auditorium. The crowd of at least 2000 swarmed in late, with many people caught in the snarled traffic jam involving the Jazz and Rib Fest., which shared parking lots with our event. Even our conductor's arrival at the hall was delayed by the traffic. One supporter friend emailed me after the performance telling me they were turned away for parking and missed the concert.

The conductor for tonight's concert was Alessandro Siciliani, who was Music Director of the Columbus Symphony for 12 years. He certainly has an avid following, and the electricity of a live performance is most definitely enhanced by the audience in attendance. Tonight, the repeated standing ovations signaled their adoration for him, and for us through him. Maestro Alessandro had no trouble living up to his reputation in his performance, both with the orchestra and his adoring fans.

His tempos were characteristically exciting and very, very flexible; something akin to riding fast on a rubber roller coaster, most assuredly an exhilarating ride. Yet, despite the musician's occasional discomfort, something exudes from a performance with "Big Al" which could never happen again, ever. Each moment is unique, and something to be cherished as it passes forever into oblivion. And the audiences of Columbus tune into that energy, as if it's something they have needed to feel for a long time, to be reminded of the preciousness (and excitement) of the moment.

The musicians of the Symphony were proud to have members of the Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati orchestra in our midst tonight, creating a new level of attention and freshness to our playing. Those orchestras in turn are showing their respect for us as a world class musical group by their willingness to play music with us. Again, the unique spirit of this performance will never be recreated.

As an encore, Alessandro wanted to play the entire last movement of the Dvorak 8th symphony we had just played. We tried to start a murmuring revolt, repeating a rehearsal number near the end, which would allow us all to play just the last page. After all, we were tired! But Al persisted, and we played the whole last movement again. And, much as I hate to admit it, I ENJOYED doing it a second time. It gave me a chance to squeeze a little more emotion out of every note. The orchestra sounded fantastic both times, but even more free and spirited the second. That's something a recording can't do.

One inside story needs to be shared. During Rossini's Overture to the Italian Girl in Algiers, someone's metronome (a clicking device to assist with rhythm practice) somehow clicked on in their case, during the middle of the performance. We were all very busy with lots of notes, and no one had time to search nearby bags and cases to locate the rogue metronome. The thing is, the beat of the clicking device was much, much slower than the piece we were playing. There was something comical about this lazy, summer-night-rhythm ticking away blandly in contrast with the flurry of hurried activity going on the woodwinds (where the metronome was centered). The little thing just happily clicked it's laid back tempo until the end of the piece. I offer commendations to those woodwind players who had to play difficult, rhythmic solos to play while this lazy beat persisted in the background.

Ah, there's nothing quite like a live performance of music, or I should say a performance "alive with music".

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