Tom Strini
Review

MSO, de Waart, Almond and Johnson

By - Oct 2nd, 2009 11:55 pm
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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.

Edo de Waart rehearsing the MSO Wednesday. Patti Wenzel photo for ThirdCoast Digest.

Edo de Waart rehearsing the MSO Wednesday. Patti Wenzel photo for ThirdCoast Digest.

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.

De Waart discussing Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 during an interview Wednesday. Patti Wenzel/ThirdCoast photo.

De Waart discussing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 during an interview Wednesday. Patti Wenzel/ThirdCoast photo.

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.

The sunny, extroverted Seventh contrasted neatly with Brahms’ autumnal, introspective Concerto in A minor for Violin and Cello. Concertmaster Frank Almond and principal cellist Joseph Johnson, attuned to one another in every sense of the word, brought out the profound nostalgia in Brahms’ lyricism. It’s just music, just sound; how can it make us so aware of the passage of time and of life?

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.

Categories: Classical, Culture Desk

0 thoughts on “Review: MSO, de Waart, Almond and Johnson”

  1. Anonymous says:

    This review was written with very enticing language and makes me wish I were able to see the concert. In choosing to focus less on technique and the usual removed, unemotional critical analysis, you painted a picture of the concert as most of the audience might experience it. Some of your audience is more interested in reading the specific technical ways this performance compares with other performances of the same piece, but if your goal is to urge the public to attend the concert for a rewarding musical experience, I imagine this would help sell tickets.
    Thanks for writing!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for commenting, Katy.
    The goal isn’t to sell tickets; that’s the MSO marketing department’s job. The goal is to share the experience and the meaning of it in some vivid, comprehensible way. Closer to the ground, the goal is to not be boring about music and keep people coming back to ThirdCoast for more. — Tom

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Tom,

    You asked for feedback concerning this article, and so I’d like to extend my appreciation. While I generally enjoy your analyses and reviews, it was nice to read a different, perhaps more subjective approach to your perception of what’s going on in the music scene here. You certainly talked about the people and pieces that you experienced, but in a more ‘lyric’ manner. I liked it.

    Thanks,

    Rick

  4. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful! I loved the personal peek inside your head and heart that told me what the music and the performance meant to you. It was almost poetic — very nice indeed. You are obviously very impressed with the way the Symphony is responding to its new leadership; that makes me want to get there as often as I can this season. I want to see what you see, hear what you hear; although I understand that I may not always see in the same colors you do.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Oh, I do so miss your printed reviews, but now I know where to find them. I haven’t yet read the Wednesday interview, but want to say that both my ticket-mate and I have noticed, in the two concerts we have attended (YOYO and Friday ) that Edo’s conducting is bringing about changes in subtle ways, but in significant ways. He gets that very quiet sound that I haven’t remembered from the past. And, he focuses on a specific section of the Orchestra when he wants something he and they have discussed. After two concerts,I think I am getting to know him and his style. As Joe Johnson (aka Wonder Boy) said in the TalkBack, it’s like going to a new school, where everything is new but you know that basics.

    The Talk Back on Friday was great, too. I just wish I had had the courage to ask if there are any plans for Recording. Do you know?

    Miss you very much, and the other Arts reviewers retired from JS, but we will continue to find you.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Having been to the concert tonight (Sat.), I re-read your review, mostly agreeing. What I LOVE about the new format is that there’s space for you to include more than was the case at the J-S. I’d respectfully disagree with Rick that your writing is any more subjective than it ever has been (criticism=informed opinion, after all), but there’s room for you to be in it, as well as what you are hearing, and that’s an interesting read…

  7. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, everyone, for taking a moment to comment here. I’m hoping that ThirdCoast will become a gathering place for discussion about the arts, and this is a start.

    Re: Rick and Stefanie on subjectivity/objectivity. You’re right, Rick, in that this review hooks in something I’ve experienced — ok, felt — outside the concert hall with something I heard inside the hall. But I’m aiming toward a sort of objectivity, because I’m not just sharing a feeling (way too much of that going on on the web). I wrote this the way I did because I suspect that I’m not unique. I think most people have had that experience and I think Beethoven was tapping into it. In a roundabout way, that part of the review is a speculation on a quality of human experience that I suspect Beethoven was trying to bottle in sound.
    –Tom

  8. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful review. I love your writing. Makes me want to sit down and read more. Thanks for inspiring us to become more aware of “the particular miracle of existing in this particular moment”.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Hi Ann,
    Thanks for finding me and for commenting. I doubt the MSO has any plans for conventional (CDs and distribution), but they are recording every concert and have an extensive library of performances available for download. Here is where you can find out more about this:
    http://download.mso.org/app

  10. Anonymous says:

    I loved Qigang Chen’s piece! Amusing to see some having a hard time with it. Also glad to see Frank turn his own pages.

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