Monday, November 5, 2012

Blowing Brahms Up (Totally in a Good Way)

I finally got to hear the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra perform on stage! I've missed a few concerts of theirs ever since they got back on stage, due to some gigs of my own. So, it was my pleasure to finally get to hear them this past weekend, and sure enough, they tore stuff up. (that's a compliment, btw).

Former Music Director John Nelson was at the helm for the moving program, consisting of Mozart's Exsultate Jubilate, and Brahms' German Requiem. Aga Mikolaj was the soprano for the Mozart, and baritone Nathan Berg joined her for the Brahms (along with the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir).

Mikolaj wowed me (and the rest of the audience as well) with her vocal dexterity. She has such a command of her voice! And what made it even more impacting is that it seems to take no effort with her, at all. Simply amazing. The pared down orchestra supported her well. Balance was never an issue, and the orchestra too sounded good.

I want to interrupt my entry here to say that I'm having a hard time putting all this to words--throughout the whole first half of the concert, I was basking in the fact that my orchestra ('s not MY orchestra, yet that's how I feel sometimes!) was back on stage. I didn't catch all the things I usually do when listening to a concert--not the intricacies that I often like to expound upon and whatnot. I was just marveling for the whole first half that there was music coming from the Hilbert Circle Theater! I was overjoyed to know that the musicians were back where they wanted to be--and where WE, the concert goers wanted them to be: on stage making music.

I finally kinda got my head on straight for the second half. I stopped thinking "Wow! They're back on stage!" and was able to really dig in to what was, without a doubt, one of the best performances I've heard the ISO do. And no, I'm not just saying that.

It was glorious to hear the first note of the Brahms, that beautiful low F from the cellos and basses. It was warm, inviting, and it literally promised to everyone, what a good performance this would be. I smiled upon hearing it, and felt this bizarre warmth come over me. Is it the piece? It could have been. Brahms' German Requiem is deeply moving. From the texts he chose, to his writing, to the hearing the ISO finally after what they'd been through, and under the very able baton of Maestro was a potent combination. I also thought about when I had played the very same piece, and it occurred to me--it was the last piece I played in concert before I left Indianapolis for two years in Texas. And now it was the first piece I was hearing upon my return. Call me sentimental, call me cheesey, but I found that to be kinda poignant, and sweet. The whole concert seemed like a homecoming of sorts---a former music director was at the podium, the house was packed quite well, and I swear, I must have seen at least 4 or more retired ISO musicians attending the concert. It seemed like quite the coming together of people, you know?

And so it was, not just in the ways I mentioned, but also clearly in the orchestra. I mean.....WOW. The ISO sounded SO GOOD. Solid. Concrete. Like they meant business. But it wasn't just business---it was HEART. It was SOUL. And my god, was it ever so good to soak up and listen to. This concert was a balm for whatever wound you may have had. It was comforting, enriching, encouraging, uplifting, impacting, moving, insightful, soothing.....need I go on? Do I even need to give you a play by play breakdown of the performance? Everyone on stage was clearly performing at the top of their game.

You know, this is what the ISO does best. What's "this", you may ask? Classical music. Sounds simplistic, and stupid of me to say so, but seriously, think about it. This is where their heart is. This is where it can be seen and found the most, in the repertoire given to us by classical composers. Don't get me wrong---pops concerts are great too. As little a fan as I am of them, Happy Hour concerts ARE great, and fun, and serve a good purpose. I think it's awesome that Time for Three are the resident ensemble--they are a fantastic group of men/musicians, and I'm sure the ISO has fun backing them up. The Yuletide Celebration is an INCREDIBLE show they put on each year, and is awesome. Who doesn't love Symphony on the Prairie in the summer, too? I love packing up a picnic and blanket and heading up north for those concerts--they are delightful. I think it's awesome that some awesome Broadway stars and whatnot come to the Hilbert to sing--those people certainly are important parts of the ISO's season. Yet none of these performances really compare to the classical concerts. There's a different kind of intensity to classical concerts. It's not surprising either, as the musicians have spent their lives working on classical repertoire. You don't go for an orchestral job by working on jingles from musicals (as great as musicals are). It's the excerpts of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy, Ravel, Prokofiev, get my point?

It's in the classical repertoire where the ISO really shines. It's where they show us their best. It's where we get to see their heart bared, for all to see. And let me tell you, friends---it's a very moving thing to see. If you were there Saturday, you understand what I mean!

Thank you, ISO musicians. Thank you for giving it your all this past weekend---it was sublime.  It was more than I imagined it would be, to see you guys back on stage again. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.


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