When a capable leader takes charge, he/she doesn't simply command, but instead leads with experience and integrity.
That's what George Manahan did tonight with the Columbus Symphony. Neither ego nor excessive choreography were needed for him to impress or convince. He directed tonight's concert with thoughtful leadership and detailed rendering of the music. And he had a blast while doing so! He's not over the hill; he's on top of it.
In the Leonora Overture Opus 72a (1806) of Beethoven, Manahan crafted the opening fragmented Adagio to highlight its neurotic parts rather than trying to mold it into a single mood. The ensuing Allegro emerged from pianissimo into a blinding crescendo using more than just dynamics. In Manahan's hands, it began hesitantly and gained momentum as it grew in power.
Throughout the rest of the overture, Maestro Manahan encouraged the various and complex moods of Beethoven's music to evolve, ending with one of the most unbridled Allegros I've ever played in that piece.
He then shifted to the role of accompanist with ease in Orli Shaham's powerful and expressive performance of Beethoven's 3rd Piano Concerto in C minor, Opus 37.
Ms. Shaham's rendition of the heart-wrenchingly beautiful second movement Largo indulged its introspective and spiritual beauty. This music of Beethoven must have been created in the spirit of deep love and affection. At least that is the sweet emotion it inspires in me. At times it has the romantic Eastern European flavor of Chopin (which it preceded by decades).
One favorite part of mine in this movement is where the bassoon (Betsy Sturdevant) and flute (Randy Hester) pass off fragments of melody while the piano accompanies with rolling chords. Time seems to stop as the two wind instruments entwine their lines in some heavenly dream.
The rollicking Rondo Allegro last movement contains several potholes which often snag inexperienced conductors, where the orchestra must enter with a strong tutti passage following a blur of notes from the solo piano. Manahan caught them with a sharp eye and ear. (We had a less successful experience with another conductor recently, in a different piano concerto, but the same kind of dicey traps.)
Manahan conducted the Overture and the 5th Symphony from memory. I'm always impressed with this skill, even though these are "war horses" in the symphonic literature.
For the second half, Maestro Manahan drew a fresh and vigorous reading of the most recognizable symphony in the history of music, Beethoven's Fifth (also in C minor, like the concerto). His confidence on the podium was never forced or strained. He conveyed excitement without tension, just the kind of energy which translates into good playing. After the orchestra relaxed into it, we all trusted his good energy.
In general, he kept the pedal to the metal, bringing out the maniacal rhythmical drive of the music. (Beethoven invented minimalist music WAY before Phillip Glass!) Some conductors will ride the brakes once in awhile to keep the performance civilized. Manahan wasn't shy about guzzling gas. Nor was he a reckless driver. I suspect his considerable experience behind the wheel has sharpened his judgment for knowing the difference.
The Ohio Theater looked quite full from my view on stage. And they seemed thrilled with the concert.
On a side note- I am happy to say I was playing on a synthetic reed tonight. (a Legere reed, made in Canada) This is the first time I've ever done this. And I was quite happy with the result. I also found out that plastic reeds squeak just as well as cane ones! I'll report more about these in another post.