Some of that busy-ness includes blog posts that have more to do with the subject of this blog - travel - than with the symphony reviews he has been writing to learn a bit about music and to keep up his writing chops. At the same time he is preparing for a journey to Ireland in just under two months, and as usual has been busy planning, perhaps even micro-planning the trip in addition to doing a considerable amount of research on the country.
Alas, the good doctor's readers may find themselves a bit non-plussed at the lack of KWALITY music criticism available to them in the blog recently. In fact he has written not a word about the last three concerts he has seen the Greenville Symphony (GSO) perform. He is pleased to announce that alleviation is at hand! He will today describe in as brief a style possible (hmmmm...), while attempting to retain his usual masterful writing style (hmmmm...), all three.
Away we go! A veritable trio of GSO, executed with verve & con brio!
Interestingly enough (or is it?) the three concerts attended range from the intimate to the grand, and Dottore Gianni will tackle them not in chronological order, but in order of ensemble size.
The first of these, the Spotlight Series, features anywhere from two to seven or eight performers, usually the first chairs from different sections of the GSO, in performances designed to stretch those excellent musicians and to extend the knowledge of the audience, as the works performed are usually less than...usual. On the Ides of March (oh dear! Caesar DID go forth, but apparently got through the day in one piece and with no stab wounds to speak of) I attended the inanely titled "East Side, West Side" which featured the music of Paul Hindemith, Peyton McDonald, and Ludwig von Beethoven. Ah, you'll think, familiar names all...well, except for the man in the middle. Who in the name of all things musical is Peyton McDonald? We'll get to that momentarily, but let's look first at the Hindemith, which was the first work performed.
You may remember that Dottore Gianni has written of Hindemith in a post on a previous concert, so he'll not repeat
In fact I reviewed the GSO's performance of Op. 24 No. 1 in October of 2012 - the post is titled Bloggo Sehr Schnell und Wild for anyone might want to read it (and who wouldn't? admonishes Dottore Gianni) In fact the good doctor and I (thank the gods we have to buy only one seat between us) quite enjoyed it. But no details here...you must see for yourselves!
The quintet performed on the Ides of March 2014 consists of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn. Like No. 1, it is intriguingly marked:
I. Lustig. Mäßig schnell Viertel
II. Walzer. Durchweg sehr leise
III. Ruhig und einfach
IV. Schelle Viertel
V. Sehr Lebhaft
For those of you who happen to be German-challenged, I'll attempt to translate:
I. Merry. Moderately fast "four" or "quarter"*
II. Waltz. Entirely very quiet
III. Quiet and easy
IV. Fast "four" or "quarter"
V. Very lively
*sidebar re "Viertel": Dottore Gianni took an extensive break in writing this post in an attempt to discover what exactly "Viertel" means, in terms of musical markings - to no avail. It may be a time signature of sorts, but I leave it to wiser ones than I/the good doctor to identify it.
I have commented in earlier blogs that of the winds and the strings of the GSO, I prefer the strings. In fact I have in the past accused the first chair horn of frequent flubbing, but in the recent concert she was dead on target in a difficult piece of music. In fact the playing of the quintet was at least competent and sometimes quite fine. Still, I'm not overly fond of Hindemith in general, and now know that I'm not overly fond (and nor is Dottore Gianni) of Op. 24 No. 2. And that's all there is to be said for that.
The second piece was for flute and percussion, written by a composer who is of course a household word, so familiar is he
Sidebar: I wrote above that the title of the concert was less than brilliant. It was the inclusion of the music described just above that provided the impetus for the title "East Side, West Side," but when any fool understands that that phrase refers to the two sides of a city, NEW YORK city in fact, here it is to be understood as Far East (represented by the duet) vs the West. Hmmmm...no major deal, but if they can't think of a title stronger than that, why not label it simply Concert Number 3?
After merely tolerating (despite strong musicianship) the first two pieces Dottore Gianni (and I must confess I too) breathed a sigh of relief. Beethoven! Last but far from least in
I. Adagio - Allegro con brio
II. Adagio cantabile
III. Tempo di Menuetto - Trio
IV. Tema con Variazioni (Andante)
V. Scherzo (Allegro molto e vivace - Trio
VI. Andante con moto all Marcia - Presto
What? You say you don't understand them??? Well for heaven's sake, most of them are cognates (variazioni? menuetto??), but if you're still confused...sorry. Dottore Gianni has already worked his fingers to the bone on the German markings, so please be so kind as to go on line and check it out for yourself, thanks very much.
Now, about that Septet! Strong points? The music is so much more pleasing to the cultivated ear of Dottore Gianni (his left ear, on the other hand...ba-da-bing!) than either of the first two pieces, and there is some quite wonderful musicianship, particularly from Xiaoqing Yu, the first chair violinist and concertmaster of the GSO. While he has never been the featured soloist in the two seasons that I have been attending, he takes short solo lines in orchestral pieces that call for them, and I am never disappointed. Anthony Marrotta, the principal clarinetist, played beautifully too. In fact Beethoven often has the clarinet mirror the violin, and vice versa, and between the two musicians they offered really lovely readings of many passages. Anneka Zuehlke-King on the horn was as fine in this piece as she was in the first, the first chair bassoonist Amy Yang also pleasant to hear, and the bass player Timothy Easter was...acceptable.
Cut now to the weak points despite the elegant playing of those players, the others were merely adequate. The first chair cellist is on leave this season, and her place is being taken by the second chair (and definite second fiddle) Robert O'Brien. He was not exactly disappointing, but somewhat soul-less in his bowing. Furthermore, this long-haired, pony-tailed cellist happens to be the partner (in life) of Katie Dey, the first chair viola, on whom Dottore Gianni admittedly developed a crush early in his first season attending GSO concerts for her wild auburn curls and her dramatic movements while playing. Alas, to paraphrase Shakespeare's Richard III, I had her, but I did not keep her long! Gradually as my ear became more attuned, her small ensemble work particularly seemed not up to par with the other prime performers. For example in this piece there is some beautiful interweaving between the violin and viola. Xiaoqing Yu more than did his part, but Ms Dey, who retained her dramatic swaying, was not as fine in her bowing, and she did not seem up to Yu's level of playing.
Some of you are thinking that this singling out of the cellist/violist/loving couple is merely an fit of jealousy on Dottore Gianni's part. BUT! If two of the players are only adequate, and one just acceptable, while the other four really shine, a small piece such as this septet suffers. The music seems fine, but one begins to feel a lack of cohesion, a loss of balance in the overall effect of the music. So, while I enjoyed this more than the first two pieces in this intimate concert, I went away with the feeling that, to paraphrase another play of the English Renaissance, 'tis pity it's a bore.
Quick after-note: Peter Schickele (aka PDQ Bach) parodied the septet with PDQ Bach's Schleptet in E-flat Major, S.o. but replaces the clarinet and double base with flute and oboe, according to Wikipedia, which is nearly as all-knowing as Dottore Gianni!
|Peter Schickele, having, as he usually does, the last laugh|
The second of two concerts in this three-for-the-price-of-one review was part of the GSO's Chamber Orchestra series, which consists of many more musicians than appear in the Spotlight Series, but whereas the full orchestra comes in at as many as 60 or 70 musicians, the chamber orchestra consists of perhaps 30 to at most 40. These concerts I generally very much enjoy. They are held in the Gunter Theatre, the smaller of the Peace Center's two venues, a place I find much more comfortable than the main concert hall/theatre.
Alas, despite the charm of the hall, another rather insipid concert title greeted the audience members when they opened their programs: "Composers are Smiling." After pondering this dull phrase briefly it dawned on Dottore Gianni that the music to be performed in this concert was considered "light" by the GSO powers-that-be, compared to other works the orchestra has presented. Ah! And ho-hum.
The entire first part of the concert was taken up with a piece in 24 movements (but who's counting? Don't worry, Dottore Gianni has no intention of listing them) called Façade. This
Walton, of whom Dottore Gianni first knew as the composer to the stirring score for Laurence Olivier's film version of Shakespeare's Henry V, had been an angel-voiced chorister in Oxford as a boy, began to compose music at age twelve, and eventually became a student at Oxford. Alas he did not do as well as that prestigious school would have liked on certain exams and was sent down. He was rescued, however, by the Sitwells, who provided him with both a home and a cultural education.
Edith, interested in the relationship/distinction between poetry and music, crafted poems for which Walton composed music, and on 24 January 1922 Façade was given its premiere performance in the Sitwell home (Dottore Gianni can only assume that all the patrons were well-seated ba-da-bing! #2). The author sat behind a curtain and, using a megaphone, chanted the words as the musicians played Walton's music. Never a dull moment at the Sitwells'!
The first public performance was given about six months
|William Walton in 1928|
At the recent GSO performance the majority of the audience seemed in agreement with the majority of early critics and throughout the performance there was much rustling of programs. Audience members, after all, wanted to know where they were while the orchestra waded through the 24 movements, most of them, thank the musical muse, mercifully short. Actually it was not so much the music as the narration that jarred. Local music professor (at Furman) Hugh Floyd was brought in for the task, which requires not only a sonorous reading voice but a keen knowledge of music, to keep in time with the instrumental ensemble. His performance was determinedly jolly, but he resorted to cheap vocal tricks to keep the audience interested, and his range of such tricks was limited, so he resorted to the same ones (mostly high-pitched elongations of sound) over and over again. This repetition had the effect on many, including the rather large gentleman seated next to me, of putting them to sleep. As for Dottore Gianni, he wished, shortly after the beginning of the entertainment, that Maestro Tchivzhel had chosen to perform the music only. After all, Façade as later made into a ballet choreographed by the legendary Frederick Ashton. The GSO audience vigorously applauded the narrator as well as the ensemble. Sad to say, however, Façade was a tedious way to begin a concert, and intermission came as a welcome relief for the good doctor. While Dottore Gianni can behave on occasion as theatrically as Noel Coward, he decided against a dramatic exodus and kept up a façade of, if not enjoyment, at least tolerance of Façade. To put it another way, the piece just didn't sit-well with the good doctor. Ba-da-bing! #3
Not ALL were perplexed by the entertainment, however. I must admit I got quite a kick out of two intellectual old biddies in front of me, who had printed out the poems and followed Façade with many smiles and noddings, as if they were the only ones in the hall who really grasped the meaning of the seemingly endless 45 minute "entertainment."
I'm very happy to announce that in the second part of "Composers are Smiling," consisting of four shorter works involving a
The era after the Great War abounded in feverish artistic experimentation, some of which, including the Futurist movement, pre-dated the War; and one of which, the best known and least ordinary of the era, DADA, was born during the conflict. After the War Paris retained its reputation as the center of avant-garde artistic activity, and it was then and there that DADA morphed into Surrealism. So of course one expects wild artistic experiments, and Le Boeuf was one of these. Milhaud had originally written the music as a score for a Charlie Chaplin film, but one of the greatest surrealists of them all, Jean Cocteau, counseled him to turn it into a ballet instead.
|Dufy's setting for Le Boeuf sir la Toit|
The spirit of the ballet is similar to earlier surrealist dramatic works including Apollinaire's The Breasts of Tiresias, the very first surrealist performance piece, in fact sub-titled un drame surrealiste, and Parade, for which Cocteau also created a scenario, with music by Eric Satie, featuring sets by Picasso and dancing by the Ballets Russes.
The music for Le Boeuf is in the esteemed opinion of Dottore Gianni, brilliant and great fun. Its exuberant spirit was served well by Maestro Tchivzhel and the GSO, which delivered a performance filled with gusto (particularly in the many repetitions of the main theme) and joy.
A brief aside: With such a title it would be difficult to resist creating a restaurant of that name in Paris, and sure enough there is one, which began life as a bar/cabaret frequented by Cocteau and his pals.
After the Milhaud, we were treated to a light piece by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) titled "Jazz Suite No. 1," written in the mid-1930s. How this gifted composer managed to write anything light during the years when Stalin was constantly
The piece is obviously inspired by American jazz, which was sweeping Europe at the time, though many critics find the music more reminiscent of gypsy tunes than of jazz. There are three brief movements:
III. Foxtrot (Blues)
In the first movement the music is centered on the trumpet, saxophone and violin, though it concludes with a glockenspiel. The second movement showcases brass and violin, but also a xylophone, and the third includes a Hawaiian guitar. The Jazz Suite was well executed by the GSO ensemble, and all in all, was great fun!
The shortest work of the concert's second part, "The Typewriter" by Leroy Anderson, was next on the bill, and was executed in quite a clever manner. The percussionist, a wiry and clever-looking young woman who had entertained us on the xylophone in the Shostakovich, was now summoned downstage to a chair next to the Maestro, and an old fashioned black typewriter was brought in and placed in front of her. And off she went typing in time as the orchestra played the melody behind her. A quick smirk or flourish of the head by the excellent percussionist added to the effect.
For some reason the the classist powers-that-be at GSO decided against including the lowly pops composer Leroy
He began arranging music in the Boston area and came to the attention of Arthur Fiedler, legendary conductor of the
|Arthur Fiedler in action|
Anderson's two most successful tunes were "The Syncopated Clock," written in 1945 and "Sleigh Ride" in 1948, but they were followed closely by "The Typewriter," which Dottore Gianni recalls seeing many times
|A white-tie performance of "The Typewriter"|
tsk, tsk! scolds Dottore Gianni!
"Tick-a-tick-a, tick-a-tick-a, tick-a-tick-a, tick-a-tick-a, tick-a-tick-a, tick-a-tick-a, ticka- tick - PING!" sez me.
|Leonard Bernstein in the late 1940s|
This concert, in the main concert hall, is part of the Masterpiece Series, the most formal of the three series offered by the GSO. I had been looking forward to this particular concert very much, because it consisted of work by two of my favorite late Romantic composers. Jean Sibelius and Antonin Dvořak. So I was almost impatient for late March to arrive, so I could hear, in the first part of the program, Finlandia and the Violin Concerto by the former and in the second, Symphony No. 5 of the latter.
I'll confess, I was somewhat disappointed. The replacement soloist in the violin concerto, Yevgeny Kutik, is a young (just under 30 years old) Russian-American, but older than Benjamin Beilman (a mere 24 years old), who was to have played the piece. While I have no way to compare the two, I can't help but think that Beilman (winner of all sorts of prestigious musical awards who made his debut at Carnegie Hall this season) was a better choice than Kutik. There is no question that Kutik can play well, but the violin needs to dominate this very difficult concerto, and he was unable to make that happen. The orchestra too seemed less than their usual selves, possibly in part because of the two missing first chairs.
I also blame Maestro Tchivzhel. I had a short talk with a retired music teacher who happened to be in my lifelong learning class earlier this year. He too subscribes to the GSO, and very much enjoys it, though he said he did not always care for Tchivzhel's artistic choices. He wasn't able to go into detail, but a slight doubt in my own mind seemed to grow after this conversation.
I have noted in past posts that Tchivzhel takes some passages so fast that the musicians seem barely able to keep up. He also tends towards melodrama, both on the podium (though I
can't fault that - Leonard Bernstein on the podium performed his way through much of the music conducted, and I never minded that), and in especially dramatic passages written by Romantic composers for the most part. He tends towards this especially when it comes to the brass section of the GSO, and if you know your Sibelius and yourDvořak, you know they love to feature brass. During the concert I first noticed a stridency in the brass during the opening piece, the wonderful Finlandia. At moments it seemed as if it was being played like a Souza march, and that in my opinion (and quite naturally also in Dottore Gianni's) is out of place in Sibelius. Dramatic, certainly. Melodramatic, no.
This tendency towards the strident continued into the violin concerto, and may well be one of the reasons that the soloist was unable to command the piece. I found it even more annoying in the delightful Dvořak Symphony No. 5. Forced
Is Dottore Gianni falling out of love with Maestro Tchivzhel's style? Stay tuned, as this coming weekend he takes on Tchaikovsky, a favorite of his and a composer that in the past he has performed brilliantly, according to Dottore Gianni. The truth will out, and very soon!