Sunday, March 29, 2009

I Just Want To Bang On The Drum All Day

One of the real joys of living in Cincinnati is the opportunity to hear the Cincinnati Symphony.  It's become a  bit cliche to say this, but it's true:  we are shockingly fortunate to have a symphony orchestra this good in a city the size of Cincinnati.

Last night, CSO performed three pieces, the world premiere of a piece by Jeremy Mumford, a percussion concerto by Jennifer Higdon, and Beethoven's Fifth.  Janelle Gelfand's review of Friday's concert (with the same program) is here.

I'd never heard a percussion concerto before, but it was terrific.  Read Gelfand's review for a more coherent description of the performance, but it was breathtaking.  The audience rewarded it with one of the most robust standing ovations I've seen at Music Hall (and perhaps the most sustained approval of any non-Paavo-conducted performance).  I'd read a review of Colin Currie's (the featured percussionist) performance of the work with another orchestra, so I was expecting an excellent performance from him.  I didn't realize, though, how much work the piece left for the CSO's own percussionists to do (or how brilliantly they'd do it).

I'm going to politely disagree with Gelfand's review of the Mumford piece.  That was the kind of work that gives people bad feelings about modern orchestral music.  (When the conductor feels the need to explain to his audience "how to listen to" the work his orchestra is about to perform, there's a good chance the next fifteen or twenty minutes of your life will be a bit unpleasant.)  And any time you read in a review about "tone clusters," you know that the music is comprised of the discord that pops up in the background of your worst dreams.  (Yes, my dreams are often scored--aren't yours?)

It was a particularly interesting--odd?--choice to place the Mumford on last night's program, with Higdon and Beethoven.  Beethoven's Fifth is one of those pieces that even non-hardcore symphony-goers enjoy.  So, frankly, was the Higdon.  But the Mumford?  After the concert, I couldn't help thinking of Liz's review of JeanRo's "nose to tail" dinner.  Both are artistic forays that people would really like to convince themselves they're sophisticated to enjoy, but at the end of the night, you'd be a lot happier with a classic (like Beethoven's Fifth or a fillet mignon).  So maybe it's my fault--my musical palate just isn't up to Mumford's level.

Luckily, a few weeks from now, all I (or most people, I suspect) will remember from the evening will be Currie's amazing performance of Higdon's awesome concerto.

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