Monday, March 25, 2013


Hopefully, when your read the title of this post, you hear the beginning of Beethoven's Symphony no. 5 in C minor, which i had the pleasure of hearing this past weekend at the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, along with a few other orchestral goodies.

I am noticing a different Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra than I'm used to, and it's one that overall, I like quite a bit. (this will not be the usual review. This is gonna be about how I see the ISO changing, and how I especially saw it this past weekend).

First off, the ISO sounds BIGGER. Seriously, their sound is expanding. I am not sure if it's the new European style seating or what, but the orchestra sounds broader, which I like. It's as if the orchestra had been caged for a while, and is now unleashed. There are times when the orchestra sounds quite rich, and nearly lush. I especially noticed this in the Brahms (Tragic Overture), and especially since Maestro Urbanski took a bit of a slow tempo for it. I felt like the orchestra was able to stretch everything out, and really sit on notes, as it were.

In addition to that more broad sound, the dynamic contrast of this orchestra is growing in leaps and bounds. It's exciting to hear such quiet pianissimos, like I've never heard before. It's been a while, at least.

These are good things that are happening. However, there are negatives as well.

Woodwind intonation. It's an issue. The second movement of the Beethoven had me wincing at times. I was unsure who to blame---perhaps a bit of everyone? What happened to listening?  Did each individual think "It's not me!" Come on guys and gals. There's no excuse for it.

Precision (in many areas). It's not there. It's not there with intonation in the woodwinds obviously, and other sections on occasion too. But I'm talking talking precision in other ways---notes being the exact same length. Bow strokes being identical. If one section has a phrase and is then copied by another section, that phrasing needs to match. All the i's need to be dotted, and the t's crossed. Everything needs to be tied together nicely. Make sense?

I don't say any of this to trash the orchestra---heavens no. Actually, I see this time in the ISO's life as an exciting time. They've got a new, dynamic Music Director, who is already making all sorts of progress with the orchestra. Seating style and whatnot can have a lot to do with the new sound, but I haven't noticed this sound until Urbanski, so I'm gonna say that HE is responsible for the delightful growth and improvement in that area. And the orchestra does sound more passionate---I attribute that to him as well, and also to the up and downs that this orchestra has gone through this year, with contract disputes and whatnot. I actually think that lit a fire of sorts, under everyone's bum, and the results of that can definitely be heard.

So,  growth is clearly there. I listened on Saturday, and I was proud of the ISO. I also heard things that can be cleaner, and more precise. And I know that me saying this is nothing new, or isn't some abstract concept. I mean, Beethoven 5 is standard repertoire. I myself have much of the bass part memorized still, from college! We all have worked on Beethoven 5 a ton---it's a requirement for just about everyone's audition. It's a piece EVERYONE knows, yet it was not perfect on Saturday. It really should have been. The first movement---Urbanski took a brisk tempo that the orchestra couldn't seem to keep up with---sloppy eighth notes as a result. Second movement was an exercise in intonation issues. 3rd movement was rather sloppy at times, during the famous trio part. The cellos and basses sounded like mush at times. Sure, some of that is the hall, but it's also the player. Do you get the point I'm trying to make?  It was an exciting performance, for sure. I was glued to the orchestra like they were playing Mahler, instead of Beethoven. Yet it was not as precise as it could have been, and not as precise as it SHOULD have been.

I say all this with hope, however. I truly have the utmost confidence in this orchestra, and very excited about its future. Auditions for various open spots are happening, so new, invigorating and inspiring blood will be coming in. The renewed support of the ISO's audience I'd like to think, is quite a morale booster for the orchestra. A new CEO to help move the organization forward. An amazing new Music Director who clearly wants to get things done and create beauty and mold this orchestra to be the best it can be. Things are still new between he and his orchestra, so I cannot expect everything to be lily white and perfect, not just yet. I do believe with time, these things will be addressed.

How exciting is it, for me, to get to see this molding process for the orchestra? It's been a privilege to see its growth over the year, and this orchestra has grown SO much in the time I've gotten to hear them. And at times they've gone backwards. And others, they've sprung forward and been challenged, and met those challenges. I really think this time right now is exciting for them---you can hear it in the orchestra, and you can feel the excitement that the audience has (especially Saturday night---the place was packed, and there was quite an energy about that audience).

What a fantastic time to be hearing great music, with a great orchestra that is on its way up. I'm digging on your bigger, more expansive sound, ISO. I am in LOVE with your dynamic contrast. Now, to just keep working on all the details!  Can't wait to hear continued growth, hopefully at the next concert!

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