Tuesday, October 16, 2012

San Diego Symphony Does Respighi, Haydn and Tchaikovsky 2nd Piano Concerto (with Garrick Ohlsson) [12 Oct 2012]

It had been a long while since I last dropped in on the San Diego Symphony, but Garrick Ohlsson was in town last weekend to do Tchaikovsky's 2nd piano concerto. Since when can a smorg resist a temptation like that?
Copley Symphony Hall box office
I couldn't resist the concert line up, but plenty other people apparently could as the main orchestra level of the auditorium was only about 70% occupied on Friday. Not that that didn't have its upside. Many of us who started out in the cheaper section got quite an upgrade into better (more centrally located) seats after the intermission. I don't think the ushers minded it much.

The concert started off with Ottorino Respighi's Ancient Airs & Dances Suite# 1. This is a rather neat set of modern rearrangement of late Renaissance music by obscure composers (one of whom was Galileo Galilei's dad!). I had never heard the music before and therefore was much looking forward to a new experience. Alas, I seem forever at odds with maestro Jahja Ling when it comes to delivery of chromatically expressive music. The Raspighi sounded like it could be absolutely delightful - a masterpiece of impressionistic descriptive scenery. The music wants to jump out at you, but its enthusiasm was foiled by excessive restraint and regularity, so much so that it left me feeling left out in the cold. I can't fault the technically impeccable orchestra. The instrumentalists delivered all that was asked of them, alas, they weren't asked to musically live out Count Orlando's march into the village or dance the gaillard or the villanelle or the play out the risque masquerade. It was like listening to Ben Stein dead panning a spicy Italian play, every syllable sounded out with the same weight and rhythm as the others. It took much of the charm out of some of Respighi's best orchestration. After a while I found myself disengaging and starting to pay more attention to the violinists' trouser cut, the paintings on the auditorium walls, the bald spot on the back of an audience member's head, among other things, than to the music I had paid to hear!
'scuse me while I take a little well earned nap...
That said, the Respighi still came out alright compared to what became of Joseph Haydn's witty Bb major Symphony (No. 102). Perhaps opera-fan me demand more emotional commitment in musical performance than warranted. That is possible. But I think even the musicians knew something was really off from the really lukewarm applause they got at the end of what should have been a really infectiously fun symphony. I mean, we're talking about the Copley Hall symphony audience that regularly give rousing applause and standing ovations even to mediocre performances here. The applause they gave after the first half on Friday night was comparable to a no applause at other more demanding halls! I had never been so tempted to walk out in the middle of a performance. The fact that this is such a fine orchestra that can technically do anything made it worse. A spirited performance by a group that could barely cope with technical requirement would have fared better than an indifferent one by a perfectly capable band, I think. Ultimately I think my problem is more with the bandleader (conductor) than the band itself. It was his vision of the music that I had problem with. He is probably too nice and mild-tempered a guy all around while I long for a more volatile musician waving the baton on the podium.

I'm glad I stuck around for Garrick Ohlsson's playing of the not often heard Tchaikovsky's 2nd piano concerto (in G major), however. Mr Ohlsson's vision of the piece was a bit different from mine, but he was both technically splendid and emotionally committed that his conviction not only won the evening, it also resuscitated the orchestra! Suddenly the players started to accentuate their phrases and indulged in tasteful rubato that made the music seemed came alive from series of printed notes on the score. Special notice to concertmaster Jeff Thayer (violin) and Yao Zhao (cello) for their solos and duet/trio bits with the piano. The rousing audience reception at the end was a big contrast to the one at half time. So much so that we were all rewarded when Maestro Ling urged Mr Ohlsson into giving us an encore. A fleeting playing of Chopin's C# minor waltz (Op. 64 No. 2).
Jahja Ling urging Garrick Ohlsson on for an encore during the sustained round of applause at Copley Symphony Hall Friday night.
A good finish can make up for a lot of sins indeed. After the show Jahja Ling, Garrick Ohlsson sat down with Nuvi Mehta (the associate conductor here who does the pre-concert lecture. He had a bit of an off night Friday, but he is usually a delight to listen to) for a little informal talk with the audience. I stuck around for a while, but had to leave before it was over.

There are a few good symphony concerts coming up this winter season. I'm hoping to catch a few, but have to see how my schedule would accommodate them. If you feel like enjoying some symphonic evenings while in San Diego, check out sandiegosymphony.com for their performance schedule.


Georg said...

Maybe they bungled good old Papa Haydn's symphony but the unlucky composer won't have to bear the consequences.

He is beyond that since long.

Imagine, papa Haydn lived in Budapest and Vienna (more or less), in the middle of a sophisticated Central European lendscape and those unlucky today's performers stem from those torrid Pacific surrroundings.

Give them a break man, ask the S.D. municipality to for a visit to Esterhazy's castle and garden plus a glimpse of Schönbrunn. That might help to improve the buggers bandleader included.

Cheers, Smorgy,


Smorg said...

Hallo Georgy: Haha, Papa Haydn might have had some issue with his wit going to waste on wit-deficient performance, I'm afraid. :) But then we sure don't have a place like Esterhazy or Schoenbrun to inspire our musicians. We do have the ocean, tho, but I tend to sort of get spaced out staring at it. That might not help much... ;)

Thanks for stopping by, my friend. Hope all is well in your bit of the globe!