Sunday’s concert (SF Symphony):
Joquin Rodrigo, Concierto de Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra
Tchaikovsky, Piano Concerto No. 1 in b-flat minor
Shostakovich, Symphony No. 5 in d minor
It looks like a great programme, and I purchased tickets to it (on Groupon) not long after a pretty great experience with Shosta. My high hopes were not met, but the experience was, I think, an important one.
The couple sitting next to me frequent the symphony, and from their conversations I realized that they look for very different things when picking a performance to attend. I myself want to know the composers and pieces on the programme and I sort of just assume that the performers will do a decent job of reconstructing the pieces close to the original intent of the composer. When I do my ‘homework’ before a concert, I tend to Google the music, not the musicians.
Which gives me plenty to look up — it’s a whole world of things to learn, about musical period and historical context, and composers’ lives and their styles and motivations, musical composition styles and on and on. I try to pick a concert with a piece I know and enjoy, or something by a favorite composer, and then additional selections I’m not familiar with so that I am exposed to more.
Other people focus on the other things — the performers (“It’s St. Martin in the Fields, on tour!”) or the venue (“Let’s go watch whatever is at Carnegie Hall that night”) or the conductor (“Zollman’s interpretations of Boroque music are really refreshing”), and so on. These to me, are each whole other worlds of listening to classical music. One can spend infinite energy to keep abreast of them. I pick my recordings carefully, checking classical review archives, and have several different recordings of my favorite pieces. But when it comes to live performances, I feel that I have my hands full already without trying to juggle all these additional factors when picking a concert.
On the other hand, maybe I should make more of an effort sooner. The Rodrigo Concierto yesterday was performed by a young, and somewhat nervous, twelve-year-old Roberto Granados (he has a great name for performing Spanish guitar music). He was proficient enough on the classical guitar, IMHO, but … he almost put me to sleep (or maybe Rodrigo is to blame?). The Tchaikovsky definitely woke me up: it’s a dramatic, grand, sweeping piece. But while I have a recording on CD that gives me goosebumps every time, I had to work hard to get into this rendition by the pretty and perhaps prodigious 16-year old Rieko Tsuchida.
And Shosta? Ah, well, for that one there seems to be only Shostakovich himself to blame. The symphony number five was not at all what I expected from him. It was dramatic and loud, but borderline boring. [The orchestra was huge compared to anything else I’ve heard from the composer — piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, three clarinets, three bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, a tuba, a piano, two harps, … and a percussion section of at least 9 … and oh yes, don’t forget, the strings section. I’m pretty sure Shosta just gave them all the same notes to play. The result was something like a fun movie score, but without the movie to keep one engaged.]
The third movement helped redeem the piece a little bit. It has this nice subtle tension-building thing on violin that leads to an admittedly satisfying climax in the familiar sounding fourth movement. The final movement was fun — I mean, blaring horns and that timpani and bass drum and cymbals — but Shostakovitch has evoked a lot more in me with just three instruments in his chamber pieces. Wikipedia and a section in The Rest is Noise suggest that this piece was written as a sort of an appeasement to dissatisfied masses, and that’s what it sounds like to me — like he took a break and wrote something quick and fun but without any emotional investment.
I think after this experience I’m going to switch away from the symphony for a few concerts in favor of small ensembles and chamber music. It’s a struggle to find them, but worth the effort. I’m also going to try to get more sleep the night before; I think that will help me be able to enjoy the music more.