Thursday, March 4, 2010


You guys! A couple of weeks ago I saw 4 concerts in a row and I said I would write about them. Life has intervened in the meantime, but now you can hear about my concertgoing exploits. If I wrote in depth about each one, I think it would be sufficiently lengthy to bore the non-musical yet somehow still fail to offer real insight to the musical. So, I condense the first three and offer somewhat more extended thoughts on the fourth, which was the most interesting for reasons you will find out, if you continue to read!

My first concert, at Carnegie Hall, was put on by a young musicians' orchestra ("young" meaning 18-30 or so, rather than a youth orchestra) as well as some more illustrious soloists including Joshua Bell. I really enjoyed their rendition of Shostakovich's 6th Symphony, even though I am skeptical of jolly Shostakovich. They ended with a rousing Bolero, which always entertains, and played Bach's Double Violin Concerto. I wish I could get into listening to Bach more. I enjoy playing (my paltry bit of) him on the piano because of how patterned and mathematical it feels, but largely fail to replicate this satisfaction in my listening habits.

The next concert involved the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and its graceful rendition of the Brahms Violin Concerto and Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra (thanks to C— for suggesting the latter). It was all in all a lovely contrast to what feels like all-power all-the-time from Alan Gilbert and the NY Phil (which I do also like).

The third was back to the Phil (though with David Robertson, not Gilbert) and Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand. Which was commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein, one-armed brother of the more-famous philosopher, and which was totally awesome. It was followed by some dances by Ginastera which were much fun.

Then Sunday I dragged myself out of bed for a surprisingly well-attended (to narcoleptic me) morning piano performance by David Greilsammer. Who did this crazy-awesome thing inspired by John Adams's China Gates. He got to thinking about pieces of music as "gates" through which to see other pieces: What can we learn from these new juxtapositions? What new meaning does a piece up close to another allow us to hear? The whole idea puts me in mind of a surreal Pictures at an Exhibition, though Greilsammer never mentions that in his program notes.

The juxtapositions themselves are crazy; the pianist played part of, say, a Ligeti piece, followed by a snatch of Mozart, then part of Satie, an arrangement he's made of Monteverdi, Janacek...up to the centerpiece, China Gates, of course, and then back out: another section of the Janacek concerto, another related Monteverdi song, and so on. The whole time, he comes to the end of a piece and strips the relevant sheet music away, amassing piles on either side of him, gates of a sort, a surprisingly showy gesture in what otherwise, somehow, feels like an understated performance.

I wish I could play piano like that, the opening of China Gates so delicate compared to any lesson-book piece I can muddle through, or even the pounding way I usually experience it through headphones. It was beautiful while it lasted. Now I'm back to playing my tunes for bears to dance to.

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