MSO, de Waart, Almond and Johnson
Imagine walking along on a nice day, thinking of nothing in particular. Maybe you’re whistling a tune so idly you’re barely aware of it.
But in a flash, something strikes you — a passing mom laughing with her toddler, a sharp vintage car, the sun bringing out the red of a brick wall in a striking way — and suddenly you’re aware of everything, most of all the particular miracle of existing in this particular moment. Your awareness expands to take in everything and your heart expands to take in the joy of simply living.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 was like that Friday night at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall. The main theme of the first movement entered idly in the flutes, a throwaway tune played deadpan. Suddenly, the energy jumped a level and the brasses took up the melody and endowed it with a grand, expansive and wholly unanticipated joy. It took us to a place of heightened awareness of and sensitivity to Beethoven’s sound world.
I’ve heard the piece hundreds of times, but Friday I heard it anew, as you might see your own neighborhood afresh by walking rather than driving.
In an interview Wednesday, conductor Edo de Waart said that tempo is the key to the Seventh, and he made it stick Friday. After that mulling-over introduction and the first statement of the theme, he established a momentum that carried through and unified all four movements. The players were avid and aware; they were near perfect but not concerned with perfection. The goal was to make every moment count, and they did.
Beethoven danced through a landscape. Brahms set a contemplative mood. Both accomplished their ends by means of phrases and themes in essentially rhetorical schemes of exposition and development.
Qigang Chen, in Five Elements, did no such thing. Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal got two minutes each of free-floating pings, chings, rings, scrapes, rustles, chimes, buzzes and tones. The composer made no argument, conveyed no drama, sang no songs. He asked us only to hear this sound, and this sound, and this sound, and so on, and be fully aware of each of them. And that was enough.
This program will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 3). Visit the MSO site for further information, and call the Marcus Center box office, 414 273-7206, for tickets.
What others wrote about this concert: Elaine Schmidt’s Journal Sentinel review.