Monday, October 29, 2007

Mahler was a rockin' guy.

I'm in a music appreciation class in school. We are required to attend two formal concerts during the semester, and to write a review on it. It is perfectly acceptable to go to one of the free concerts put on by our school....but, you all know that I don't usually settle for simply 'acceptable.'

No, I couldn't do things the easy way. I just HAD to spend a bunch of money and time, and drag myself (and my cousin Stacey) up to see the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

I had an amazing time. ;) Figure I might as well post my concert review that I will be turning in to my teacher (best teacher EVAR!) tomorrow morning. :)

Without any further ado: (you'll just have to imagine it correctly formatted and whatnot! :P )

The mood upon arrival at Symphony Center, home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, was one of anticipation and excitement. Or perhaps this observation was, in part, a misinterpretation of a projection of my own enthusiasm onto that of my fellow concert-goers. After checking my bag and buying a three dollar bottle of water that could not have been much bigger than a shot glass, my friend and I made our way to our seats. The view from the second row of the main floor seating area was not the greatest in the respect of being able to watch the entire orchestra. The conductor, however, was in my direct line of sight, as our seats were towards the end of the left side of the stage. I found him to be captivating, and having the ability to see his face was a valuable part of my experience. Overall, the seats were not bad for the nominal price paid.

Looking around me, I found the majority of the audience was comprised of older generations, many of them dressed up to the nines. Well rehearsed in the way of fine art spectatorship, these seasoned symphony patrons were well composed, knowing exactly when to clap, when to stand, and when to snore. Also catching my eye was the younger, jeans and t-shirt clad crowd that was interspersed amongst the assembly. I found this interesting mix of young and old, casual and formal, hip and traditional, to be an enlightening experience in and of itself. It intrigued me to learn that, over one hundred years after their peak, the music of the two great composers on the agenda for the night could still enrapture such a broad span of generations.

First on the program for the evening was a piece from the Romantic era by Richard Wagner, called Siegfried Idyll, which was made for a chamber orchestra. Instruments included in the work were violins, viola, cello, bass, trumpet, horns, bassoon, clarinets, oboe, and flute. It was the strings that softly and slowly brought us into the world of Siegfried Idyll. The melody began smooth and flowing, somewhat reflective in mood. The woodwinds joined, and then the brass, adding to the gradual rise in dynamics. Crescendos and decrescendos, sometimes somewhat subtle, were present throughout the entirety, and usually provided a slight tension in the music that helped to keep your attention and lead you through it. Solos during the piece had simple melodies and helped to enhance the intimate mood that was being put forth. The ensemble put on an exemplary performance, with no errors that could be picked up by my untrained ear. It was pleasant and calm, and lulled the audience into a sense of serenity that was not to last.

Gustav Mahler’s Sixth Symphony then came marching in with vengeance. This Romantic Era symphony of gargantuan proportions was full of intense emotion, from dark triumph to quiet introspection to tense caution. The score calls for a full orchestra, which also includes cowbells, rute, celesta, and a hammer. The dynamic range is wide, utilizing crescendos and decrescendos, as well as sudden shifts between loud and soft that kept the crowd engaged, and the elderly awake. Changes in mood and tension are created with the changes in rhythm between each movement, and also within them. Melodies are somewhat complex at some points, and simple at others. In fact, there were very few elements that remained constant throughout the entire eighty minutes, making for, overall, a very complex work that rendered my attempts at note-taking useless. It was performed beautifully, with the exception of one squeaky note from what sounded like a clarinet, during the first movement. The players were poised and professional, not even missing a beat when quickly restringing a violin bow that came unstrung during the finale.

A component of my symphonic experience that must not be forgotten is that of conductor Bernard Haitink. Watching him mold an entire stage full of players and their instruments into a beautiful and intricate work of art was an experience I will not soon forget. It was fascinating to see his facial and body expressions as he gave precise orders as to what he expected from each and every orchestra member. When a particular player or group of players especially pleased him, he would give them a nod and a slight smile, a gesture which I imagine brings great pride to those who received it.

Finally, though I may still be inexperienced when it comes to recognizing flaws in musical performances, I feel fairly confident in my assertion that I had been presented with a good display of talent and artistry. If the goal of a musician, be it a composer, a conductor, or an instrumentalist, is to evoke emotion and inspire interest, then the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Bernard Haitink achieved that goal with this performance. I also have them to thank for introducing me to the brilliant composer, Gustav Mahler. I have fallen in love with his sixth symphony, and anxiously anticipate soaking in each of the rest of his works of art.

No comments: