Two weeks in a row, the ISO wows us all. Man oh man---if you weren't there Saturday night---YOUR LOSS.
There were all sorts of factors in play Saturday night, in my opinion at least. There was the excitement of the looming Feb.3 deadline to raise 5 million dollars in new donations. There was the fact that the program was a hot program--some well known, well loved pieces were on the program. Add to that, a world premiere that the ISO commissioned. Emmanuel Ax was blessing us all that night with his piano skills, which are out of this world. All this was led by Giancarlo Guerrero, a rather well known conductor. Everything was on edge. Things seemed to hang in the balance, precariously. I was concerned about the orchestra sounding good, as I knew they only had 4 rehearsals to work on the rep, which isn't much considering that program. There was an energy about the night, if you ask me. It could have gone one way or another, and I'm so happy it went the right way.
Things got off to a fantastic start with the world premiere of William Brittelle's Dunes. About 10 minutes long or so, he covered what you see and experience in the desert---bland desolation....life that seems to defy the odds by growing and even thriving in that environment....the other-worldliness of the desert...it was all there. It was there in the bassoons bleating out notes, little trumpet passages, sliding strings, and long held out notes punctuated by the timpani on occasion. He even seemed to put the oppressive heat of the desert to music. The colors and textures he created were numerous! You know, a lot of new music is nice to hear once, and you compliment it, and then you move on. But Dunes is the piece that has been on my mind the MOST since Saturday. I want to know when it's going to be recorded, so I can go and buy it. It deserves many more performances. It's excellent--Brittelle has something to say, and it's something worth listening to!
After that, Ax came in to wow us with Beethoven's Piano Concerto no. 4. This was just.....I mean....where do I start? Come on. I mean, everyone knows Ax is the cream of the crop. Yet when you hear it live....oh man. I kept wondering how he could get that sound out of the piano! I, as a string musician can manipulate a string in such a way that I can create all sorts of sounds. yet with a piano, it's fixed. There's no vibrato to add. You can put your bow in a different part of the string to get a different sound--what you get is, what you get. Yet at times I swore the man was dazzling us with bells or something. The clarity with which he plays as well--every note is spoken. Not a single one is forgotten about. Such attention to detail, without ever sacrificing the big picture. He was sublime, to say the least. That piece was HIS, and he made it his. He owned it, so to speak.
Tod und Verklarung had its ups and downs.....Guerrero is such a passionate conductor, and you can nearly see he has big ideas, but at times I was left scratching my head as to what he was trying to get across. I know the story of the piece, yet....I wondered what was coming next sometimes. But then after scratching my head during one part, and I wish I could remember where it was, I ended up floored, and in the good way. When things were spot on, they were SPOT ON. It was a part that started after a flurry of activity, and then things were quiet, and the basses or something started out, peaceful, and then other instruments joined in. I remember this peace and tranquility that possessed the sound of the orchestra, and as corny as it sounds, made it straight to me. I wasn't ready for this musical surprise. I had felt like much of this journey so far was up and down---the death occurred, but the whole transfiguring thing was off to a shaky start. But at this one particular part, it came together, and boom, I was so taken aback, that I teared up. It's great when seeing/hearing/experiencing beautiful things makes you cry, it really is. Yet we don't always cry at such things, which is good. I used to cry so easily at music, and in some ways, that's sweet. It's like a vulnerability that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Yet, I have grown out of that, and while I'm no stoic, I'm not moved as easily as I was. These thoughts came to me during this piece---sort of like my own miniature death and transfiguration story, in regards to my emotions and whatnot. Actually, I have many of those (little deaths and transfigurations) as of late, it seems---moving to Texas, finding what I thought would always be my life, finding who I thought I'd be spending that life with, and it all changing drastically, and moving back here to Indy, figuring things out.....and all the emotional heavy lifting and mental debris to sift through. All that to say......the rendering of this piece got to me, and got to me good. I felt like it was being played specifically for me. I could give you a more technical run down of the piece and whatnot, but......meh, who cares. That stuff is nothing compared to the way music speaks to the heart.
Francesca di Rimini was like.....WOW. What a piece. Well, first off, it's like, 90838732 pages long. Good grief that work goes on for a while. Sheesh! But anyway---what a description of a woman condemned to Hell. We have to hear her in Hell in the beginning and end, and in between it's the story of her passion, and love, and all the "good" stuff, but....what a journey. The orchestra was on fire, quite frankly. Guerrero was too---conducting with all sorts of aplomb. All sorts of extremes were reached in this piece---emotional, dynamic, physical (when you think of going from Hell to love, back to Hell). These extremes were so well traveled for the orchestra and Guerrero....a journey they certainly weren't timid about, at all. At the end of the piece, they (the orchestra and Guerrero) were just going nuts. I mean, stuff was off the hook. Volume, intensity, passion.....the minute it ended all of that transferred over to the audience, and we hopped out of our seat. We didn't think about whether we wanted to give a standing ovation or not---the music caused our butts to magically lift off the seat. There couldn't have been any other reaction. You don't just applause vigorously for a show like that, with an ending like that---you fly out of your seat, hootin' and hollerin'. (as usual, I was the first person to begin said hootin' and hollerin').
This passion and intensity---I hope it continues to stay with the ISO. I understand the orchestra has been under stress, worrying about raising money, contract negotiations in the past months, etc etc. I'm sure that has contributed in some ways to the intensity of the performances as of late. The ISO has been playing its heart out, it seems, AND I DON'T WANT THAT TO END. I don't want the orchestra to sit back and rest on it's laurels, like "we have a contract, yay, we can chill." NO, you cannot chill! I'm used to hearing concerts of seriously high musical caliber, with real and significant emotional depth to them. I want it to stay that way, regardless of contracts, or soloists, or repertoire, or fundraising. The ISO has shown how incredibly capable it is of producing such concerts. Don't sit back and relax, ISO. Don't get comfy in your chairs again, and become simply satisfied to have raised some money, and gotten your contract. You owe it to your audience---AND YOURSELVES--to constantly be on your A game. You didn't go to music school just to produce mediocre music. You went to music school for performances like this weekend, and the weekend before. And hopefully for all the concerts ahead of you as well---which I look forward to, so much.
Congratulations, ISO, on some amazing performances. Congrats on raising the money, and starting your new 5 year contract. But my heartiest congratulations go to you for raising your own bar, for showing us all what you are truly capable of. It's exciting, and it's inspiring.