Monday, September 25, 2006

Overture and Two Dances

We went to the symphony Sunday. It was an entertaining program in spite of two of the pieces being 20th century. In fact, the players made Stravinsky's Firebird Suite sound much better than it sounds in any recording I've ever heard. As a former board operator for Canada's one commercial classical radio station, I've heard a number of versions and they all jangled and jarred. I guess one has to be there. The other dance actually had dancers. It is called Sabar: Concerto for Senegalese Drum and Dance Ensemble and Orchestra. The composer is James DeMars. The opening piece was Beethoven's Egmont Overture. This very familiar work was the finale of the very first concert of this symphony sixty years ago.

The theater is small; one might say it is intimate (especially in the balcony!, but the web site says it will seat 1387; seems like most are crammed in the balcony), but the sound is absolutely pure and warm, reaching all parts with effective acoustics. I just wish that the theater folk would remove 10% of the seats in the balcony (they were empty anyway) and make room for adults. I guess people were smaller when those seats were installed. If you are used to theater seating at your local movie-plex, picture this: once in your seat, you cannot move your legs or butt; you will be elbowed and elbow others. Cramping up is a real possibility.

We bought a Sunday series of concerts, as we did last year. Most of our town's retirement facilities seem to like the Sunday afternoons as well. Pity. I'm not against the elderly; I'm related to several. But, I keep encountering the rudest, the most perfumed and powdered, and cranky every Sunday. We changed our seats this year from the ones we had last season, to avoid sitting in the middle, and to avoid two particularly rude seniors. Last season, we tried to get to our seats before they did, 'cause if they got there first, we had to ask them to get up to let us in. They would pretend not to hear us; when I insisted, they got up with many grumblings and rumblings. They talked to each other all afternoon. I found myself climbing over my seat to the row above to get out during intermission. Ms CPB stayed put. Enough about them. They are still there this season, and we have aisle seats far away.

I need to say more about the music. The Concerto with the drummers was marvelous. Four drummers set up rhythms with one bare hand and one stick hand on six different drums. The orchestration provided a wonderful background, and set up many themes for the concerto. The orchestra was perfect throughout. I found myself wondering how the percussion section felt about those Senegalese percussionists. Could our local drummers do the same? Dancers came on stage from time to time to accompany the music. The whole ensemble was vastly entertaining: I forgot about cramped seating and cranky seniors the whole time. Marvelous.

Again the orchestra was up to the Stravinsky suite. I haven't mentioned the conductor/music director, have I? He is totally charismatic, and gets the best out of these local musicians. Back to The Firebird Suite, it is so much better in person. Perhaps paying 20 bucks to fight seniors and to sit in cramped quarters makes a difference. I think that the whole sensuous experience of being there is what makes the difference. Also, in the finale, Stravinsky ripped a few notes from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition: The Great Gate of Kiev. The horns echoed the theme from the Gate. One Russian paying homage to another seemed rather appropriate.

There is not much to say about Beethoven's Egmont. It is such a wonderful overture. Our radio colleagues liked it 'cause, again it was the right length, it was Beethoven, it is moody and dramatic. The symphony orchestra played it superbly. I have heard many different recorded versions. Live is best.

One last word: Support your local symphony. Go to live concerts. Hearing all this great music live has no other equal. Even if you have the absolute best audio equipment at home, you're still at home. Most recordings are done in a studio. Musicians are at their best, most alive in concert. Get out there and enjoy.

BRB is Write (and not a music critic)



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