My appologies for not posting this sooner. It was a busy week so I am just getting caught up.
My girlfriend and I attended the 3pm performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana and the Shostakovich Violin Concerto #1. If you read my last review of the HSO I was none too pleased on how we were treated. After being contacted by the Bushnell I was assured our experience would be different this time.
I noticed this time the staff and volunteers had a “go to” person to help seat the physically challenged. I was thrilled that the staff at the Bushnell really did a great job showing us to the RIGHT seats. Again the valet parking guys were awesome. One guy even offered to push me all the way to the theater! I have to say WELL DONE to the staff at the Bushnell. I appreciate that they did make a positive change and I look forward to more events there.
Ok so now the even better part:
I have always been a big fan of Russian composers since I was a kid. I remember my 1st grade teacher telling us the story of the Firebird and then listening to the Stravinsky Ballet in class. I was hooked! That piece along with Petrushka and Sacre du Printemps fascinated me and as a kid I listened to them all repeatedly. Stravinsky led me to Mussorgsky and Prokofiev then from there to Shostakovich.
I had not heard the Shostakovich Violin Concerto #1 in A minor before but had read about it. It was be performed by the Concert Master of the HSO Leonid Sigal. The first movement, “Nocturne” was mesmerizing and sublime. We both were drawn in, not sure what next lay arround the corner but we knew we couldn’t wait for the next movement. BUT.. much to our chagrin, the performance stopped andthe doors were opened to allow a large number of late patrons to findseats. This was because of the Puerto Rican Day parade that was culminating at Bushnell Park. Parking was tough to find and the HSO had sent out a phone call to ticket holders to warn about the crazy parking situation. We went very early knowing this. Perhaps others should have too.
I understand the reason for the delay but honestly, the feeling of the piece, the mood was totally shattered!! This was evidenced by the fact that after the late comers were seated 30 seconds into the 2nd movement (Scherzo) Maestra Huang stopped the orchestra and restarted the movement. Not sure why she stopped, but for me it just wasn’t happening, the concentration was broken. She did make a good joke about the stop… but still..
Could an announcement have been made at the hall and the start of the concert delayed to accommodate the parking situation? For me that would be much more preferable to starting on time and having the performance stopped like that.
Once the restart commenced, all was great and eventually we were drawn back under the spell of the music and the soloist. The third movement, Passaglia was as intriguing as the first movement. So how to follow that ? Why a cadenza of course and a brilliant one at that. More than just a display of technique, this cadenza had such a feeling about it. Again we found ourselves so drawn in anxious to hear what comes next. The finale (Burlesque) brought the concerto to a wonderful close. I loved the performance but felt bad for Leonid Sigal that his performance was interupted like that. He deserved better.
My girlfriend had conducted this piece with orchestra and her choir at Woolsey Hall in 2009. I played in the orchestra but really was so worried about making my part that I didn’t have the chance to truly enjoy how great this piece is live. I did pick up a number of things from Orff’s orchestration however that came in handy when I did the orchestrations for the Rock n’ Roll Over Beethoven concert last year. So we both were anxious to hear this.
The performance of Carmina Burana was wonderful. There were a few glitches. Some of the guys in the choir jumped the gun on some of the odd starts and stops that occur. The baritone and soprano soloists did suffer some pitch errors but in their defense this was in the extremes of their registers and was very minor. Certainly the lay listener would not have been aware. The baritone soloist had a great voice and was very entertaining when he sang communicating the spirit of the lyrics. I think he could have been a little less animated during the portions where he didn’t sing as sometimes it would be a little distracting. (Kind of conjures up an image of Mr. Bean. He wasn’t that bad but I did chuckle thinking about it) The soprano soloist looked nervous and you could see her doing some deep breathing to relax. Can’t blame her as she has to sit a long time before she gets to sing. When she did sing it was gorgeous.
One thing that puzzled us was at the start there were two chairs in front for the soprano and baritone. Where was the tenor? Our question was answered when he popped in at the right moment emerging in the midst of the orchestra. Then he sang..wow did he sing!! What a great voice!
The orchestra and the chorale sounded great and they were very well balanced for the most part. There were times when the soprano section would get a bit wiped out. I think this was more due to the configuration of the stage and where we sat. I think if we were level with the orchestra it would have been fine.
Some other general observations:
I want to note that this time I didn’t see a single musician before the concert or at intermission on stage texting or talking on thier cell phones. No violinists were observed sitting on stage chomping away on a snack either. It all looked so much more professional then our last visit.
A note about the conductor: My girlfriend often jokes about wanting to jump up and take the baton from a conductor if she thinks they are not doing the music justice. I am happy to report that she had no such inclination this time. She truly enjoys Carolyn Huang’s conducting .
I grew up in Pittsburgh and my parents took me to the Pittsburgh Symphony every Friday night. There I saw some incredible conductors. Steinberg, Previn and on a couple occasions I remember Rafael Kubelic. I can’t compare them to each other as they all got the best from the orchestra. From what I see Maestra Huang gets the best from her musicians at the HSO. Also I wanted to mention yet again how good her brass section sounds.
Thank you HSO and I’m looking forward to next season!