out with the new!
SHOSTAKOVICH Chamber Symphony for Strings in C Minor
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 4
SCHUMANN Symphony No. 3 (Rhenish)
John Eliot Gardiner, conductor
Robert Levin, piano
7:30 Ars Viva concert
A principal whining about his section in front of the entire orchestra (not the bass section – we’re mostly beyond reproach), players breaking out in song, one of the more bizarre and pointless arguments over the length of a single note, equations of musicology to gynecology – all in all an entertaining week in the orchestra.
If composers of atonal music are public enemy no.1 around here, period instrument specialists have to come in a close second, so it came as no surprise when rehearsals with John Eliot Gardiner veered towards the bizarre. Sir John seemed to arrive as prepared to battle the orchestra as conduct it. As usual, the clash between a crotchety conductor and a stodgy orchestra took on all the charm of a couple of gummy old vets arguing over who has the more ill fitting dentures. If Gardiner was treated less than cordially, he dished out in equal measure to what he received.
It might be advisable to keep the early music specialists on split weeks when only half of the orchestra plays. That way those who don’t want to deal with something ideologically repulsive to them can usually opt out. The more intimate connection to the conductor with the smaller group tends to attenuate the latent hostility of the mob.
Sadly lost in the fracas was the fact Gardiner had some good ideas. At least I thought it might do the orchestra good to experience an alternative to the calcified notions of musicality currently in force. For years, the mantra around here has been that sostenuto is the only way to play expressively. Gardiner had some interesting alternatives, particularly with regards to the Schumann, which were mostly lost due to the acrimonious atmosphere of their presentation. The result was, at best, a jumble.
Robet Levin had some different takes on the Beethoven. His improvised cadenzas seemed more of a bangy parlor trick than musical performance, but they were absolutely in tune with his onstage demeanor. I all but promised to quote the joke going round the musicians’ lounge comparing the improvised cadenzas to a dog (or was it a pig?) walking on its hind legs – nobody cares about the quality of the thing, what matters is that the beast can do it at all.
Topping it all off, due to some unfortunate circumstances I found myself in the principal chair this week. Normally that is, if not something to look forward to, an opportunity to devote a little more than the normal cursory interest in what is going on. Due to things beyond my control, and largely alien to my comprehension, the experience was less than satisfactory this time around – more like repeated visits to a proctologist with hook for a hand, in fact. I can only turn to my faith in Karma at this point.