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..
The Symphony's Springfest 2008 Schedule, not to mention the 2007-2008 Season, came to a rousing, and entertaining end, the first week of June, when acclaimed pianist Andre Watts brought his skill to bear on a Piano Concerto.
For the longest time I didn't know the backround of Andre Watts, and many will be surprised to know he is the son of a Hungarian mother and African-American father.
His father was a U.S. Army non-commissioned officer, and he spent the 1st 8 years of his life in Europe.
After studying music in Philadelphia and appearing with the Philadelphia Orchestra at age nine, Watts gained a wider audience when he made his television debut in a nationally televised concert with the New York Philharmonic in 1963 at the tender age of sixteen.
This meant he was the first classical artist to make his debut on television, and the first solo televised recital. The performance was shown live in its entirety from Lincoln Center.
He made his first world tour in 1967.
Considering the period, and the cultural upheavals going on, especially in America, both must have been quite the events.
He is the first Black concert pianist to achieve international super stardom, and is mostly associated with 19th century music and, in addition to his concert activities he is Professor of Music and Jack I. and Dora B. Hamlin Endowed Chair in Music, at the Jacobs School of Music of Indiana University.
When I arrived at the Hall I had the pleasure of finally meeting Jayce Keane, the Director of Public Relations for the Symphony, and we chatted for a few minutes before I went inside for the Pre-show lecture.
KUSC radio personality Alan Chapman, if I haven't said it before, is brilliant, witty, and funny. It is a joy to listen to his lectures before each concert.
On the program this night were 3 pieces:
Concerto for Orchestra #1, "Naughty Limericks" by Rodion Shchedrin.
Piano Concerto #2 in C Minor, Op. 18 by Sergei Rachmaninoff.
About the Rachmaninoff piece Mr. Chapman said it the FIRST Concerto was "blasted" by many of the first to hear it performed. ;-D
One critic claimed that "The inhabitants of hell would have loved it!"
Ok, fine, be that way! ;-D
What ensued, according to Chapman, was several years of writers block, and a bout of hypnotherapy.
This led the composer to create his 2nd Concerto which later had its melody become an inspiration for the song Moon Love, by Frank Sinatra.
According to Chapman Shchedrin is more familiar to Classical fans for his Carmen Suite he wrote in the 60's, but the Naughty Limericks stands out for its "irreverent humor, irony, and sharp satire of the status quo", presented to the ear by the various instruments featured in the piece.
Mr. Chapman helped us understand Tchaikovsky by reading from his mail.
An unusual way to help people understand a piece of classical music, some might think, but in this case perfectly appropriate. ;-D
A friend asked Mr. T if there was a narrative to the 4th?
Yes, he tells her, and to her alone he says that
The Intro is the Main Idea -This is Fate! Fate is inescapable and we must submit to it and invariably lament.
A feeling of boredom, and despair follows - It must be better to lose ourselves in dreams!
Then... Oh joy! A Radiant being appears promising future happiness.
Glorious dreams begin to envelope the soul, but no, Fate awakens partially, and thus you are tossed between the 2 moods until you are engulfed!
The 4th is apparently a work of "Emotional Biography" written when his personal life was in a period of crisis.
He worked on the piece while on the run from an unhappy marriage, became very depressed, and even waded into the Moscow River to try to commit suicide by cold, then topped this off by having a nervous breakdown before finally finishing the composition.
With this build-up behind us it was time to settle in for the performances.
Naughty Limericks has an interesting beginning with Winds, Cellos, and Bass before the other Strings join in.
It is a perky, and cheery piece with very amusing Wind parts throughout.
The whole thing keeps building to a "comical" frenzy of melody.
The Piano Concerto was a fascinating experience on many levels.
It was very interesting to watch Andre Watts play the piano.
He is just so involved and focused.
As he is playing I see him nodding, and shaking his head, and talking...to himself, or to his hands...or to the piano?
I have no clue, not even about what he's saying. ;-D
This is a great, moody, piece for strings, with a very familiar, to me (As one who played Violin in an Orchestra in High School.), melody in parts.
Each movement of the piece has its distinctive tone, though a similiar melody kept stepping in.
The last movement kept building to a powerful ending that, once the pianist, and orchestra fell silent sent the audience to its feet with a loud cheer and a few hearty bravos, that did not stop until the orchestra, and especially Mr. Watts, took several bows.
The thing that never ceases to amaze me about Pianists is their amazing capacity for memorization, even more so than other instrumental soloists.
They have more notes (Keys/Strings etc...) to work with, thus, in many ways they have more to remember.
One other thing I keep neglecting to mention in my reviews is the Conductor, Carl St. Clair, internationaly recognized, and respected, for his work, as Music Director of the Pacific, not to mention with organizations in Europe.
Mr. St Clair is very fun to watch, even from behind, as his body sways, up and down, and side to side, and his hands make sometimes short, sometimes sweeping, gestures that, if only certain fingers were pointed in the gestures, might make them seem vaguely obscene.
Um, hee, hee! ;-D
For some reason that's why conductors are so much fun, and interesting, to watch in action.
During intemission I chatted with a lady I overheard telling another attendee in her row, behind me, that she remembered sitting next to him 20 years ago at one of the concerts. ;-D
Symphony #4 has an absolutely great Horn and Winds opening!
It is followed by the strings, then the Winds, then the Winds and Strings together building in sound, powerfully and loudly expressing the emotions of the piece.
The Strings, and Winds, really go to town on this piece.
The Second Movement is a showcase for Strings.
The Third Movement begins with a lot of plucking Strings, which was certainly different, and pretty cool.
This was followed by the Winds in a similar sounding theme, then the Strings went back to plucking.
Hmmm, this is getting interesting!
All this plucking!
Eventually the Winds join them to a finale.
After all that the next section got off to a rousing, loud start by everyone, and didn't let up.
The bombastic ending may be familiar to anyone who loves Classical Music.
Afterward more Standing O's ensued, with special recognition for Brass Section.
As I left I saw a couple of the Violinists chatting with a smartly dressed young boy, of elementary school age it appeared, and his parents.
Very, very cool!
If he grows up to be a famous performer, in his own right, he will remember such encounters as being formative moments in his growth as a musician.