Siroccos, Gremlins and Brahms

Tonight's Columbus Symphony concert went well.

The difficult passages in the Sierra "Fandangos" were, as I expected, mostly for "effect", meaning the notes themselves didn't matter as much as the shape and volume of the passage. Delfs used the word "Sirocco" to describe the blurs of loud runs. A Sirocco is a "hot or warm wind of cyclonic origin from an arid or heated region." The piece overall was entertaining and colorful, and used the orchestra effectively. I can see why Sierra has gotten some attention as a composer.

Andre Watts performed the Beethoven Emperor piano concerto like a seasoned pro. His famously full tone on the piano transformed the piece into something larger than life. Delfs followed his lead with a rich and full accompaniment, which few pianists could cut through, but Watts had no trouble.

Unfortunately, the concentration of both performers and listeners was annoyed by a high pitched whine from a hearing aid or some other electronic device. Delfs even spoke to the audience between movements, requesting the owner of offending hearing aid to turn it off.

The incident reminded me of similar event I experienced a few years ago. It occurred at a concert of Bach's St. Matthew Passion which I attended at the Kennedy Center. A guide-dog, which accompanied a listener in the audience, didn't like the music being played, and whined through several movements. The conductor did not stop and request that it cease immediately, but the animal and its owner were asked to leave during intermission. Yet the entire audience had to withstand a substantial distraction during an otherwise stellar concert. It raises thorny questions about the limits of inclusiveness at concerts.

I had forgotten how tricky Beethoven concertos could be. His 1st piano concerto has a lengthy clarinet solo in the slow movement. His violin concerto has another such delicate and difficult solo. Tonight's concerto, the 5th and last concerto he wrote for piano, has yet another dicey part, difficult to tune and phrase, especially at the dynamics Beethoven requests. Yet I felt better than usual about it, armed as I am now with Legere synthetic reeds, which don't collapse under the stresses of heat and tense playing. After the concerto, I commented to my colleague Woody that I had never felt so (relatively) comfortable in a performance of that piece.

The second half featured Brahms' magnificent 2nd symphony, which a friend of mine claims is his best. It's Brahms' "happiest" symphony, with cheerful themes throughout. Yet I never fail to be amazed at Brahms' rich and dense score. In my view, there is more music packed in each measure of Brahms than any other composer. It's as if he wrote a piece two hours long, and then somehow condensed the same emotions into 45 minutes. Delfs' traditionally expansive reading allowed us to feel and explore much of the hidden detail.

As for my own experience, I was a happy clam. I had settled just this week on playing my Hawkins B mouthpiece. I had not played it much with the Legere reeds, but after I grew accustomed to the combination, I was quite happy. For the first time in years, I felt and heard the resonance of my own sound coming back to me from the hall. Remember, the Ohio Theater is quite large, 2800+ seats, and not a particularly resonant hall. Much of the sound just bounces around the boxy stage. But I remember the comfort of knowing I had filled the hall with my sound, when I was playing on my old Lelandais in its heyday before it lost its integrity. Tonight I felt that resonance again. Hallelujah!

As for Gremlins, they exist. They will creep into a passage and throw a few notes off, just for gremlin fun. As any seasoned orchestra player will tell you, if one person gets a gremlin, they are sure to bounce around to a few other players before ceasing. There were a few gremlins tonight, but nothing Brahms' glorious music couldn't handle.

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2 comments for “Siroccos, Gremlins and Brahms

  1. Tim
    January 24, 2010 at

    This has to be my favorite title yet! You had me thinking, "what in the world could Brahms have to do with Volkswagen and classic AMC cars?"

    • January 24, 2010 at

      I had thought of the Volkswagen, but not the AMC. Good one!!

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