Monday, November 19, 2018

three concerts

I wrote over a week ago that the smoke from the Camp Fire had cleared a little. Not very much, and it's stayed grittily hazy. A lot of people are wearing masks outside, but in downtown last weekend there were just as many cheerfully dining on the sidewalk tables, and I've been assured that short exposures are not dangerous for most people. So I've been going out, but keeping my exposures short.

Last weekend I reviewed the Fauré Requiem from the Masterworks Chorale, mostly because they'd pitched it to me. I liked it better than the obscure Schubert choral pieces they dredged up with it, but the Kirke Mechem piece had him at his very best. The chorale certainly sang everything finely.

On Friday - this was the day after I saw All the Way on stage, and two days after the Estonians' concert - I was up in the city at Herbst for a string quartet concert by a group called Brooklyn Rider. I didn't have to review this one, which is good because I'd find it hard to describe in detail, but I wasn't much more impressed by it than Lisa Hirsch in her review was. The concert's theme was music as a form of healing - interesting, I thought, as I've been to and heard of quite a few concerts in the last few weeks touting music as an antidote to stress of one kind or another - but there wasn't anything obviously healing about any of the new works they'd commissioned: all from female composers between their mid-30s and mid-40s. The Caroline Shaw piece was at least brilliant in her best mode and I liked it a lot; the Gabriela Lena Frank was pretty good; the Reena Esmail was very heavy on the Hindustani accent; and the Matana Roberts turned out to be the load of random noise it was intended as.

Then they played Beethoven's Op. 132, which really is a healing piece, centered on a long and rapturous adagio/andante depicting his thankfulness for convalescence from illness. But the problem with letting a group that specializes in the newest possible music loose on Beethoven is that they're not likely to have a long-enough perspective. They played Op. 132 in a rough and unsteady style with no sense of the magnitude of this enormous and profound work.

I had better luck being sent up to SFS the following evening to review another resilient-human-spirit concert, consisting of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony in the most uplifting performance imaginable, plus MTT's own setting for narrator and orchestra of excerpts from the diary of Anne Frank.

Unlike some narrated pieces I've reviewed recently, like Chad Cannon's Gateway or Copland's Lincoln Portrait, this piece is as much about the music as the narration, so I felt at ease not rehearsing the well-known story of Anne Frank and concentrating on the music instead. One place I almost got stuck was in describing the narrator. She wore one of those head-fastened microphones that make you look like a telephone operator. How was I to spell this? People mostly write mic instead of mike now, but what's the verb form? Are you miked, miced, or perhaps mic'd? I found advocates for all of these online, but though the AP seems to have gone for miked, I decided not to put my copy editor through any of this, and instead spelled it amplified.

Needless to say, when we got to the moment that MTT rescored Beethoven, I nearly jumped out of my seat. This is the second time in my experience that a conductor has dared to do that. Some people might pass by it unaware, but you do something that obvious (to me) to a work that iconic, and I will bloody well notice it.


  1. I will have to read your SFS review! Me, I have heard enough MTT to avoid his compositions.

    Brooklyn Rider, oy.

  2. In my experience, when a conductor barely seems to conduct, there was a ton of preparation in rehearsal and/or the conductor and orchestra know each other very very well.

    1. I;m sure that was the case - both the preparation and the knowledge. But I chose not to speculate on what I don't know, and merely said that MTT set the tone and made the score alteration.