Saturday, August 11, 2018

rather like a concert

Since B. has switched the bulk of her music-making from vocal to instrumental (violin and viola, mostly), she's been looking for others to make music with. For a while she considered founding the world's worst string quartet, but eventually she found an existing volunteer group that rejoices in the name of the Terrible Adult Chamber Orchestra. There are no audition standards except enthusiasm, and no limitations on membership. At a given rehearsal there might be seven flutes and no oboes, or whatever. B. decided to play second violin, as there were enough violists and most of the other violinists want to be firsts, and immediately became a leading member of the section.

TACO, as it prefers to call itself, allows friends and family to attend rehearsals, but states frankly that it can't imagine why anyone would want to listen. It does, however, also play occasional concerts, and there was one yesterday eve in a pop-up park on a closed-off side street in downtown Los Altos. I drove us, because I knew how to find a very nearby parking place, even though the proper entrance to the parking plaza was from the closed-off street.

By far the best performance of the day was of a set of Four Australian Folk Songs, arranged by Stephen Chin. Though B. reported the accompaniment not very interesting to play, it was colorful and performed mostly on point, and the singer, a San Jose State student named Marisol De Anda, was entirely competent, although her soprano was more of an oratorio voice than a folk-song one.

Of course there's lots this orchestra would need to do if it wished to outgrow its name, but if there's one thing I'd ask the players to do that's within their capacity, it'd be to pay more attention to the conductor, and to the conductor, Cathy Humphers Smith, to be bolder and firmer in what you ask for. The echo effects as some players got a bar behind everyone else, the occasional complete breakdowns, the time the conductor forgot the last page of the piece and had to interrupt the MC and hop back on the podium to add it, and the really weird effect the time the conductor signaled a fermata and half the players just kept going, made for a memorable performance.

Some of the pieces were taken very slowly, like what I'd have to call Tchaikovsky's Adagio cantabile (I bet you thought that was Andante cantabile, but not this time) or the Funeral March of the Valkyries. But the finale of Dvorak's Symphony from the New World, though hacked to pieces by the arranger who cut it down to size, was played at full speed and developed real power. All the big final chords came together and right on cue. It became actually satisfying.

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