Sunday, June 15, 2008

Thoughts on a Concert

This isn't a music review.

I went to the grand finale Pittsburgh Symphony concert down at Heinz Hall last night.

It was originally slated to be the Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem. But as I hear it, conductor Sir Andrew Davis left the orchestra a few months ago (not under the happiest of terms, I understand) and the conductor they scheduled in for this weekend, Yan Pascal Tortelier, didn't feel like doing it. Or something. At any rate, he preferred something French, so instead we had Fauré's Requiem and the Saint-Saens' Organ Symphony.

Fine with me; I've sung and know both the Brahms and the Fauré more than once, and the Organ Symphony and I are acquaintances from my college days, if not best musical buddies. And given it was the PSO and the Pittsburgh Mendelssohn Choir, I was sure they'd do well with either Requiem setting.

So there I was, up in my balcony seat, and first thing I notice through my opera glasses is that someone, the chorus mistress or the conductor, whoever, had decided to seat the choir fruit-basket style.

That's where you don't sit in sections, you're all mixed in together, a soprano next to a bass next to an alto next to a tenor next to a bass next to a-- you get it. I'm thinking whoever it was wanted to get more of an overall blend, versus the sound coming obviously one this section or that.

If that was the idea, it worked. Not to say they wouldn't've blended nicely if they'd been arranged the usual way. But the PMC is good enough that each chorister can maintain his or her part without needing to be propped up by others of the same voice.

I know one of the tenors; I'll have to ask him what he thought of the arrangements.

I suffered somewhat of a handicap listening to the Fauré. Because I've sung it before, I was anticipating entrances and lines and so on. I was remembering past performances. I was thinking of non-musical associations with the piece. So I wasn't as emotionally involved in last night's performance as I might have been.

At the same time, because my row was very crowded, I couldn't let myself go as if I were participating in this performance.

What? Are you accusing me of ever, ever singing under my breath in the audience at choral concerts? Me? Never!

Well, maybe . . . A little . . . during the crescendos . . . But with the row so crowded last night, I really couldn't . . . much . . . .

The soloists, soprano Nicole Cabell and baritone Lucas Meachem, were both very good. They both had great tone quality and good for them, they both sang from memory, without scores. Though Miss Cabell, unfortunately, in her Pie Jesu solo scooped a couple of times from the "pie" to the "Jesu." And things got a little out of hand at the end of the Libera Me, when Maître Tortelier was leading soloist and choir in a very staccato, accented ">li >ber >a >me" and Mr. Meachem, who was standing, of course, with his back to the conductor, got ahead of things.

But I'm not complaining. Mr. Meachem is a very tall and impressive person and is as worth looking at as listening to. He was wearing a three-piece suit, and a silly objecting voice inside me was saying, "That's sooo out of style! That's straight out of the '80s!" But my majority verdict was, "I don't care. He looks damn good in it. In fact, most guys in the 1980s looked damn good in theirs, too. Bring back the three-piece suit!!"

Miss Cabell was graceful, shapely, and trim in a raspberry-colored ruffled strapless gown. But I did wish she had thought to put up her long wavy hair! Up in the balcony, all we could see was hair and nose!

But maybe it was the fault of the lighting engineer. No one looks her best lit from the top.

The Saint-Saens Organ Symphony, after the intermission, was for me a trip into the past. I remember playing that album when I was working the front desk late nights at my college residence hall. And somehow, the music got me thinking of vague dreams and half-formed plans of twenty and more years ago . . .

Sometime in the '80s I got an idea for a house I wanted to build for myself. It's basically an energy-efficient Arts and Crafts style four-square.

The program was based on my becoming a successful architect with a large studio and office in her home . . . and on my marrying a musician. This unidentified, imaginary bridegroom was to be a professor of music at the local conservatory, and he'd regularly bring his colleagues and students over to play chamber music in our front room. Therefore, it had to be designed to accommodate them. With enough room for at least a baby grand.

Unfortunately, the only music major I knew well was the kind of guy I had to build a fire under just to keep a conversation going. Too much work.

Oh, yeah, there was also a violist I dated for awhile. He had the affrontery to say the Beethoven Violin Concerto was no good because it didn't give the violists that much to do. So much for him.

I've taken a stab a time or two over the years at drawing up my dream house, and maybe, even now, I'll see about getting the drawings done. Call it "Residence for a Music Lover" or something like that. Architects used to do that sort of demonstration project all the time.

But back to last night's music. The Organ Symphony was well-played, in general. 99% of the audience, I'd say, rose to give the PSO a standing ovation. The 1% included me . . . years ago, after being exposed to some truly magnificent chamber music artists, I decided I would not give cheap, peer-pressure standing ovations. If I stand up to applaud, it's because the performance was so great I'm compulsively launched out of my seat. And tonight, I thought Maître Tortelier had the orchestra playing so loudly in the finale that the sound got muddied up. I'm sure it could be done better, and when it is, I shall stand.


Sandy said...

Sounds like you enjoyed the concert despite the orchestra!

St. Blogwen said...

Oh, the performers all sang and played well. Just not rapturously well.