This is the third time in two months that I've gone to a concert including Agee and Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 - each with a different soprano for the solo part - a work I'd not heard at all in concert before then. Maybe the centennial of the summer described is responsible for the sudden profusion, though none of the sponsoring organizations took note of that.
Redwood Symphony was in a raucous mode this time, a little brasher than Barber's gentle music would suggest. It was up to the challenges of Britten's "4 Sea Interludes," though, and impressively bashed its way through Tchaikovsky's Fifth, a delightful performance even though the conducting was deficient.
Here's proof that my evaluation of a conductor's performance is governed more by that conductor's appreciation and understanding of the work than my own. Redwood's Eric Kujawsky is a strong advocate of Mahler, a composer I generally detest; his native understanding and appreciation of that music allows him to create what even I consider some of the best Mahler interpretations out there. But while I enjoy Tchaikovsky, Kujawsky is critical. His pre-concert talk consisted of poking fun at some of Tchaikovsky's longest and most repetitious decrescendo-decelerando passages. But while they may be funny out of context, they work within the larger structure, or they do to a conductor with an intuitive understanding of why they're there. On the podium, Kujawsky didn't seem to see much point in any of Tchaikovsky's repetitions, and since Tchaikovsky is the most insistently repetitious of all major composers, that did great harm to a symphony that can be completely coherent and convincing in more sympathetic hands.
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