Monday, October 3, 2016

Back to the Concert Hall

I had a busy weekend out of town as the concert season is now underway.  I took in a performance Friday evening with the Edmonton Symphony and then headed down to Calgary the following day to take in the Calgary Philharmonic.  These two concerts actually fell in to my schedule at a very opportune moment given that when I start back to work later this week my work schedule will be changing, adding a couple extra days to my shift.  It was nice to have a little R&R before I head back and the weather gets progressively colder.  

It actually turned out to be not too bad of a weekend.  I wasn't keen on the overcast and rainy weather but at least I wasn't stuck working in it.  And I even managed to fit in a little birding, though I'll get to that in a later post.

But first, the ESO...

The evening was an all-Mozart affair featuring a piano concerto, a symphony, an overture and 3 smaller works.  To be honest, I really struggled with what to blog about for while I had been looking forward to this concert for a few months now, I wasn't always keen on the interpretation.  I'll chalk this up partially to the fact that most of these pieces are ones I've heard before (several times, in fact) so I have pretty well-defined ideas what how I feel they should sound.

The evening kicked off with what is probably my favourite of Mozart's overtures, the one for 'The Escape from the Seraglio' and the evenings seemed rather promising.  Also featured were a couple of concert arias which marked the first time I had heard any live vocal works in quite a long time.  It's unfortunate that these aren't performed more often as Mozart wrote 40 or 50 or them with all sorts of combinations of instruments.  I won't pretend to be an expert in 18th century vocal music here but I did find the soprano's voice very impressive and a treat to listen to.  It did seem that the orchestra overpower her voice a little bit at times, to my ears at least.

Another of the smaller works performed was a Violin Rondo, which, while a great little stand-along piece, was originally written as an alternative finale to Mozart's Violin Concerto #1.  Nothing flashy, just well-executed and nice to listen to.  

One of the main works, which closed out the first half of the concert was Mozart's Piano Concerto #21.  Also known as the 'Elvira Madigan', it is probably the best-known of his piano concertos.  Again, I've heard this piece countless times so this likely coloured my judgment of it.  I will say that it was great to see this piece conducted from the keyboard by ESO conductor Bill Eddins, a practice you don't see as often these days, and he wrote his own cadenza which I also rather enjoyed.  Now there were a couple of flubbed notes before the cadenza and I did find the bass section a little overpowering (Five double basses for a Mozart piece).  There was also the little matter of an audience member's cellphone going off just as the first movement ended, something I find extremely annoying, though Mr. Eddins handled it graciously enough and even made a small joke about it afterwards about how the ring tone could have at LEAST been Beethoven.  

And since I've touched on the subject of the audience, I really don't mean to sound like pedant here, but I did want to mention one practice I find highly irritated (other than errant cell phones), specifically applauding between movements, something that also occurred with the symphony that concluded the evening.    It's long been a practice that the only time this is done is after the first movement, particularly for a difficult piece or for a particularly well-done cadenza.  Applauding after every movement is something I find distracting and while normally I wouldn't make a huge deal out of it, when it happens after every single movement, it's a tad frustrating.  Those silences between movements are there for a reason.

The evening concluded with the Symphony #35, the 'Haffner'.  Among his nicknamed symphonies, this is one of favourites (another would be the 'Prague Symphony' which features well in the 1985 movie 'Amadeus')  A well-balanced piece throughout though I found the 3rd movement a tad too fast for my taste but no big deal.  My biggest gripe with the piece was that it was over-conducted....way over-conducted.  I can understand conductors getting in to the moment so to speak but I often wonder if this can be over-used to cover up a poor performance.  I'm not saying this was the case here by any means but I do find it disappointing when I leave a performance hall and overhear people talking about the conductor's antics rather than the music itself.  

So a bit more detail about the concert than what I usually write but I grew up listening to Mozart piano concertos and symphonies and was fortunate to study quite a few of them in university so I suppose I've developed very strong opinions about what I like.  Overall, it was nice to hear Mozart since I didn't have an opportunity to hear any during any of my spring concerts.  While I did appreciate this concert, I do have to admit to being a tad disappointed at times.

Since I really wanted to fit this photo in but really had no good place to mention it, I'll include it here. I had a great view of the recently opened Rogers Centre from the top floor of my hotel across the street.  With luck, I might be able to catch an Oilers game this season.

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