Monday, November 17, 2014

Best Concert Ever

Yesterday afternoon our friend Joop took Diane and myself to another concert by the local Glacier Symphony Orchestra. As I have stated in the past, it has been a surprise and a delight to find a full fledged symphonic orchestra in a town of 20,000 and a county with less than 90,000 residents. Then to find that they were a quality organization with a brilliant conductor who is passionate about the music and about his performers, and a group of musicians committed to doing their best, compounded our delight. We have head wonderful music performed with passion and professionalism, including Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, Dvorak’s New World Symphony, and Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique. Those are concert hall war horses that demand strong performance, as their notes are familiar and expected. But John Zoltek likes a challenge. His concerts also provide new music or unfamiliar music whenever possible. It is a delicate balance when you have a small audience and a small budget, but Glacier Symphony has pulled off some magnificent experiences. Yesterday, however, Zoltek and company outdid themselves. The result was the best live performance I have ever had the fortune to witness, of any kind anywhere. I was there for the West Coast premiere of William Russo’s Three Pieces for Blues Band and Orchestra with the Korky Siegel Band and San Francisco Symphony, Segei Ozawa conducting: a truly unique experience that brought the house down. Yesterday was even better than that. They began with John Williams’ March from Superman. All season they will feature the orchestral arrangements to Williams’ movie scores. It made a rousing introduction, but gave no indication of what was to follow. Then pianist Robert Plano sat at the keyboard to perform Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2. This concerto is one of the m ost demanding for a pianist in the entire repertoire, and one equally demanding of the audience. It is also long, with an uncharacteristic four movement format. To say that Plano and the Symphony were perfect is to say that the concert was breathtakingly exciting from first note to last. Almost as enjoyable as the music itself was watching Plano’s obvious enjoyment at playing it. We gave the performers the response due them, and Plano offered a brief and robust encore that seemed to move at the speed of light. After the intermission, the orchestra performed the Symphony No. 1 by Vasily Kalinnikov. Kalinnikov is a relatively unknown Russian composer, encouraged by both Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. But Kalinnikov contracted tuberculosis while studying and supporting himself as a student, and was destined to die before his 35th birthday. As a result, his music has been ignored outside of Russia itself. When Maestro Zoltek told the audience, this might me the Montana premiere of this work, he was not joking. Yet his own delight in being able to perform this piece was palpable: he told us the work was amazingly polished yet playful, and demanded the full resources of the orchestra. He was not wrong – and Glacier Symphony nailed it. The music skipped and danced and rejoiced. The performance was so animated that, when they had finished the scherzo and before they began the finale, Zoltek exclaimed to us all, “Wow!” I had never heard a conductor make such an utterance during a performance. And yet, there was still one movement to go. The late Romantic symphony by the doomed yet cheerful composer made its mark on us all. For me, it was particularly satisfying to see and hear the music of an obscure composer championed. I have spent my life calling attention to the undeservedly unknown, partly because I am unknown myself – and when a fine symphony orchestra does the same, I feel myself a kindred spirit to them, even if the best I can do is appreciate the effort. Yesterday, that effort surpassed anything they had ever done before to my sxperience, and I sit here, grateful, hoping they managed to record their work so I might enjoy it again, and again.

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