Monday, May 24, 2010

Tchaikovsky Concerto in Chatham

Last night before the concert, a tall high-school girl in an evening gown spoke to her dad in the front row of the audience, asking him to make sure he would remember to do something. I was sitting in the second row directly behind him, so I could hear her tone. She seemed very even-tempered despite her gown. Maybe there was some of that good-humored concern in her voice, the sort you get from people who have been through some screw-ups and know they'll survive -- like maybe she's experienced her dad not pressing "record" on the camera while she accepted her diploma -- but none of the excited fluttering that goes on with most teenagers in evening gowns. This teenager had more to think about than just getting her picture taken. She had work to do in her gown. Her fingers needed to fly, in tune.

Later in the concert, after the Durham Symphony had played the mutually antagonistic overtures to Nabuco and Rienzi, she walked out, the tallest person on stage, this year's winner of this orchestra's concerto competition, to play Tchaikovsky's violin concerto.

She toyed with the first statement of the first theme in a way I like. The piece soon engulfs the audience in a sweet tidal wave of melody, but at the start, it's appropriate that the soloist just toy with it, as if assembling it by accident, like a little kid pushing matchbox cars around on the rug.

She had that singing quality that shows she is paying attention on a very musical level, not just dealing with the notes. She seemed to purposefully hit some notes a little flat and draw them up to pitch, the way a soulful singer would. She slid around the phrases, making her stringed instrument feel as though it were breathing. Sometimes the technically hard passages had her stiffly sawing through, but mostly, through the difficult stuff, she kept up her expressiveness; and when that first tidal wave of orchestra did hit (a mark of Tchaikovsky that folks could cynically criticize, though we must acknowledge how few composers could rely so extensively on melody), ushered in by her series of arpeggiation gymnastics so impressive live, and framed expertly in the LCD screen of the dad's camera in front of me as if the camera were in its own TV commercial, she took half a step back from her spot on stage and cast her eyes down, hardly in shame, but more to suppress the little smile of satisfaction tweaking her mouth, indicating that she knew she had pretty much banged it.

(In that recording was Pinchas Zuckerman with the Israeli Philharmonic showing a much better side of Israel than settling the West bank)

The soloist with the Durham Symphony in Chatham is a student at Jordan High School and takes lessons from Eric Pritchard. Expect great things to come from her.

Thanks to the Chatham Arts Council for putting on such a great event. In addition to the wonderful Tchaikovsky, the excerpts from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess were a Durham Symphony highlight. According to some, this was the first symphony concert ever in Chatham county. I suppose this could be true if none of the schools in Chatham have student orchestras (just bands instead), and the NC Symphony has never traveled there. As conductor William Henry Curry said to the audience, let's hope this starts an ongoing collaboration, continuing with, perhaps a Christmas concert.

(This blogger thinks maybe the world does not need yet another Christmas concert. But he understands that the Durham Symphony can only learn so much music; and if their fall rehearsals are focusing on the holidays, then that's the kind of music they'll be able to play next fall.)

One problem is the acoustics in the concert hall at Northwoods High School. When a musical group plays on stage, much sound is lost among the curtains hanging overhead in the small flyway. On the other hand, there is a wide "pit" in front of the first audience row which is large enough for a small orchestra, and is not really a pit at all since the floor is on level with the audience floor. So why not put the orchestra there, where more of its sound will reach the audience directly? And if the pit is not big enough for the orchestra, then some orchestra members could sit on the front portion of the stage. This would bring the whole orchestra forward, out from under the flyway, and probably improve acoustics for orchestra concerts.

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