A few weeks back I had the pleasure of attending a concert at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, at the Orange County Performing Artscenter, in Costa Mesa, Ca..
It was my 2nd time this year, and this time I was much closer to the stage, giving me a different perspective of the proceedings.
The early May performance involved a two-fer:
The Great Russian conductor, and violinist, Vladimir Spivakov conducted AND played.
The program consisted of 2 Mozarts (A concerto and a Symphony), and a Shostakovich Symphony, and the Mozarts reminded me why I love Classical Music so much, and why, in my high school playing days, this Second Violinist snitched copies of the First Violin sheet music, and made copies to play at home. ;-D
I arrived early to get my ticket, and to attend what turned out to be a very entertaining, and informative Preview talk given by Alan Chapman.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a genius...end of discussion.
Well, ok, if I stopped here, you'd not be able to read about my experience at the show, so let's continue. ;-D
Most folks are familiar with Mozart from the Movies, whether they know it or not, and the list is a long, and distinguished one.
He was a child prodigy who, in his teens, grew into an accomplished violinist, and player of other instruments, and became the great composer we all know and love.
Mr. Chapman's talk revealed to us that Mozart finished writing all 5 of his Violin Concertos by the age of 19.
Show off! ;-D
As he wrote these pieces he was moving beyond the traditional Baroque Styles of the day, and marching to his own tune.
While a few others had forged the early version of the Classical Style, he became one of the two composers best known for music of this variety (His friend-to-be Joseph Haydn being the other).
The Violin Concerto #2 in D Major, K 211, from 1775 was, according to Mr. Chapman, the most "French" of the 5.
I hope you are sitting down when you read this next sentence: Mozart had alread composed a bunch of Symphonies by the time he composed the above piece.
Like I said...show off! ;-D
The Symphony #29 in A Major, K. 201, from 1774, was one of his great "early" Symphonies, and was one of 4 written in a two year periond that, according to Mr. Chapman, was the culmination of a new maturity he had been heading toward since the age of 16.
I don't don't know what that means, exactly, but I'll take his word for it. ;-D
Dmitri Shostakovich was another sort of musical genius, living in another time, and another place, whose music was affected by the politics of the country, and times he lived through.
You have heard his music in films. amd TV, as well.
Mr. Chapman's entertaining way of telling his story made for a rousing final bit of preparation for the performance to come.
Shostakovich was 19 years old when he premiered his 1st Symphony with the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, in 1925.
The Commies had been running things for only a few short years, when he wrote this piece, and his 2nd, very different Symphony for the 10th Anniversary of the "Glorious" Revolution in 1927.
When Mr. Chapman played excerpts of each I scratched my head, and mumbled "What the ****?" at the glaring differences.
The 3rd one was a May Day Celebration piece, as oddly sounding as the 2nd, and Mr. Chapman called them "youthful experiments that failed" as he struggles between becoming a Composer of the Proletariat, or something else entirely, something Stalin and friends might not be entirely pleased with.
So he starts writing Drama. ;-D
According to Mr. Chapman this pissed off Comrade Stalin.
The politics of his Macbeth, in 1936, were heartily denounced. ;-D
Symphony #4, from the same year, was not performed until 1961. ;-D
Not to be discouraged #5 came next, and is considered his first masterpiece for Orchestra, and the 6th, in 1939 sounds quite rythmic, even in a short excerpt.
He wrote #7 while Leningrad was under seige, in 1941, rising above the horror and despair to create a work that gets him called a National Hero for his trouble. ;-D
Getting into the spirit of the times (bloody, dark, and violent) his 8th, in 1943, was the darkest, and deepest yet, depicting a war machine in its 3rd movement and, according to Mr. Chapman, thus catching hell from Russian critics for its "naturalism".
Which brings us finally to the piece to be performed this evening, the Symphony #9 in E-Flat Major, Op. 70 (1945).
The war is over, Mother Russia is safe from Nazism, and this calls for a piece all about triumph, and and victory, right?
So Dmitri gets crackin'.
Everyone is expecting something along the lines of Beethoven, and his glorious Ode to Joy...
What they got instead was, um, Haydn.
A cheerful piece, on the verge of sounding sarcastic, and almost Chaplinesque in its humor, according to my Program Notes by Peter Laki .
Oh, and not a single note in praise of the great man Stalin. ;-D
Mr. Chapman ended on an amusing note, with a chart that clearly illustrated the career trajectory of the composer based on the vagaries of the approval his efforts received from Russian Authorities, and was kind enough to allow me to photograph it.
After the Preview I went to take some more pictures, and to find my seat.
I then settled down to read the informative backround material in the Program Book (In the picture above, in the bottom right of the frame, you can see a person in white That is near where I sat.)
Vladimir Spivakov, according to the program, is a prominent violinist known around the world and, among other educational, charitable, and performing accomplishements, the founder, conductor, and violin soloist of the Moscow Virtuosi, one of the world's leading chamber ensembles.
The Mozart Concerto was a joy to listen to, with its melody that had a style familiar to me from his later pieces I've heard.
I love listening to string soloists, especially when they get seriously into their performances, and the joy they express in the playing is there for all to see, and hear.
In this case the conductor is also the soloist, and Mr. Spivakov handled this juggling act superbly.
The Mozart Symphony begins with softly played First Violins, not some fanfare, or some other loud type of opening, and that surprised me a bit, and this bit of music returns in several, louder ways later in the piece.
In the 2nd movement the violins use their mutes, and I was reminded of just how different they make the instrument sound, and how I always seemed to have trouble with mine staying in place. ;-D
According to the program the 3rd movement had a French-like style, but I just knew that it sounded nice, with its fanfares by oboes and horns, and melodies. ;-D
The Finale began with a return to the opening softness, but quickly, and entertainingly got more loud, and playful sounding on its way to a rousing ending.
Let me say that sitting as close as I was to the stage was an interesting experience, as it gives the concert goer a chance to observe the performers, up close, from a vantage point that allows you to see clearly the emotion expressed as they play.
After Intermission came the Shostakovich.
The Commies may have been disappointed that it wasn't a rousing choral work worthy of comparison to Beethoven, but the rest of us won't be. ;-D
According to the program Dmitri was either unable, or unwilling, to write such a thing.
He couldn't bring himself to compose a piece in praise of Comrade Stalin, even though he apparently DID give it his best shot before going off in an entirely different direction.
Ok, give him an A for effort, and an A+ for what he eventually came up with. ;-D
Some see in this piece a return to the playfullness and irony he exhibited in his First Symphony, but I wouldn't know, having never heard that one in its entirely that I'm aware of. ;-D
I DID notice the similarity of the opening of the piece to some Haydn I've heard, and played, then all hell breaks loose, musically, as he goes all circus-like on us with a piccolo, and it makes me smile, as does the rest of the very funny First Movement. ;-D
The mood turns serious in the Second Movement with a quiet sounding Clarinet, followed by woodwinds.
The mood gets darker with the strings, but does not stay that way for long, as the flute and piccolo restore calm.
The piece continues with a merry melody for woodwinds, then strings, and brass, before slowly getting darker again in mood until it gets downright tragic with a Bassoon solo that it's said in the program may have been intended as "a funeral oration in memory of the war victims".
But enough with all this sadness!
The Bassoon begins to sound like it almost wants to dance, or march, but not quite, still sounding a little note of solemnity here and there.
Finally the main theme of the piece makes its return and as the piece heads toward its rousing ending as the Red Army proceeds down the avenue behaving like a bunch of circus clowns. ;-D
I was smiling as I stood to cheer at the end, and I wasn't the only one. ;-D
There has been a great debate ever since the debut of this piece as to whether the composer "desecrated a moment of national glory, or let his hair down, celebrating peace in the company of fun-loving friends with a bottle of good vodka" instead of something akin to a May Day Parade, capped off by an official, pompous, speech of propagandistic BS delivered by Comrade Stalin.
In this brief, shining, moment a composer, less fortunate than some of his contemporaries (Who had the good fortune to make it to the West.), took a great risk to make a statement (Music as Joke?) for anyone who had the ears to hear it, before returning to the more approved style in his next work.
For that Classical Music lovers everyhere should be forever grateful.
The audience stood and cheered until the Conductor came back on stage for another bow, and then he led the Orchestra in a wonderful encore, the Waltz from Aram Khachaturian's "Masquerade (Give the 4 minute piece a listen! Yes, he's another guy whose music you have heard in the movies!)."