Columbus Symphony Orchestra

Rachmaninoff and Brahms

Yea!  It’s finally here!

This weekend, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra started its masterworks season with some Rachmaninoff, Brahms and Estacio. The evening started when my friend and I enjoyed a tasty dinner in Grandview (Aab – Indian food. Delicious!) and then worked our way downtown to enjoy the first concert in our pack of season tickets.

We started with the usual pre-concert chat was in a different place this year.  Last year, they were all held all the way upstairs on the 4th floor in a corner space by the windows.  This year, it was down in the main floor seating area right as you walk in, kind of like they are at the Southern Theatre.  It was a nice setting for it and gave us a great view of the gorgeous Ohio Theatre.  I even ran into a friend of mine from my RPCV group.  Of course, I nearly always run into someone from my Peace Corps alumni group, because we’re all lovers of artsy and cultural events!

Speaking of which, (shameless plug) you’ll be able to meet us at the upcoming Columbus International Festival the first weekend in November at the Veteran’s Memorial.  I tried to talk the CSO into setting up a booth there – at least with volunteers and / or staff – so they could help get the word out in a festival replete with people who are interested in all different cultures and music.  Heck – I even offered to help volunteer that Sunday since I’m already working it Saturday morning with CORVA (My RPCV group) and have tickets to the CSO that Saturday, but apparently wasn’t convincing enough.  I’ll keep trying! Exposure! Remember my survey last summer and how everyone wanted to see a Symphony presence out and about at festivals and public events? Remember how asking about that was the one question the CSO itself put into my survey?  Well – here’s your answer!  I’m bummed that they won’t be there – this time! 🙂 That’s OK.  I’ll keep trying!  I’m a Cubs fan, so we’ll get ’em next year!  Er… Something like that, anyway!

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This is Mr. Purdy talking to us pre-concert.  He told us how the Brahms Symphony No. 4 was a beautiful piece (It was!) that while still typical Brahms, had a lot of “new” elements in it that hadn’t yet been heard in music in the day.  He also told us how Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 was a graduation piece, of sorts, after months of therapy – needed when Rachmaninoff’s earlier piece was not at all well-reviewed. (Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 had been a flop as well, but I think they both ended up doing well for themselves!)  Mr. Purdy said that neither one was a “starving composer” or anything and were each famous and well-off in their day.

A big deal with tonight’s concert was the third piece on the program: John Estacio’s Brio.

Don’t know John Estacio?  I’d never heard of him either.  You should though, because Brio was really good!  He’s a Canadian composer apparently most well-known for his operas.  I read that he’s only a few years older than I am and according to Mr. Purdy, it’s a big deal for a professional orchestra to open their season with a relatively unknown piece by a living composer.  He went on to tell us that by the time the other pieces had been written, composers had moved on from being only a profession at the service of nobility and on to an actual profession.  Nice for the CSO to continue supporting that side of the music world though – much like orchestras did back in the days of Brahms or Rachmaninoff.

In our seats

The concert started out with his orchestral piece, Brio, which I really liked.  It was a fantastic piece that I hope will soon be recorded so I can add it to my music library!  It’s not in iTunes and I didn’t see it on any recordings of Estacio’s music, so I sent the composer an Email via his website asking about it.  Perhaps I’ll learn that something’s in the works.  Who knows?  I sure hope so! It reminded me though, of something we would have played in a band concert because it made a big use, I thought, of the winds and brass. It really was a terrific piece! My friend liked it equally as well. Hey CSO – want to make a new CD? When you do, would you please include Estacio’s music on it? Thanks!

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This is my view this year! Not so different from last year, instead of seat 110, I’m in 105 – just a little more centered. 🙂 (I took this one from 107)

Next up on the program was the piece for which I bought a ticket to this particular concert: Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2.  THIS is the piece of music I wanted to hear.  When the horn players talked about the “Brahms concert” I talked about the “Rachmaninoff concert!”

To me, this is a piece which I consider to be a saving grace of 20th century classical music – i.e. not exactly my favorite era.  Sure, Copland and Gershwin’s music is wonderful, but the things Rachmaninoff can do with the piano are unequalled! This concert, to me, was going to be a highlight of the season – along with Beethoven’s 5th and Mozart’s Requiem – a concert NOT to be missed!

In addition to that, the clarinet in the Adagio Sostenuto movement is so beautiful and Principal clarinetist, David Thomas, totally out shined the clarinettists on the recordings I have of this piece.  His playing was just beautiful!

A bit on the quirky side

For the first time since attending symphony concerts, I must say I was really, really disappointed with this performance (My text to mom at intermission had a third “really”)  I wasn’t disappointed at all because of the orchestra itself, but because of the pianist, Maxim Mogilevsky. Russian-born, we learned his great-grandfather originally debuted a piece written by Rachmaninoff. Mr. Purdy commented about his being in the family business as his parents and brother are all professional musicians as well.  While I have no doubt that he’s a good pianist, I thought him to be rather strange.  He was very fidgety and according to one patron in line for the lady’s room at intermission, he must have had the sweatiest hands in the business. Every chance he had, during even short rests, he kept grabbing a towel he had on the piano to dry off his hands, wipe his brow, wipe the keys. He would then go on to keep fixing his hair, wiping it, running his fingers through it, who knows? At one point early on, he even worked really hard during a rest to adjust his shirt under his arms reminiscent of when a sleeve is slightly twisted underneath a jacket.

None of that has anything to do with his playing.  It was just odd.  The weird thing about his playing though was this: he didn’t play it well. Like conductors, pianists are all open to their own interpretations. They can play around a bit with the tempo, add in their own personal emotion and style when playing a piece, etc.  When conducting a pianist, I imagine there’s quite a bit of challenge to conducting the orchestra to match the playing of the soloist.  Well, Mogilevsky, was a soloist in the truest sense of the word because orchestra be damned!  He was playing with or without them.  He took a quick tempo, but then rushed and rushed his way through it.

The worst part, I think, was that he made noticeable mistakes. Sure, a live performance won’t be exactly perfect like what one imagines from a recording that can be played over and over again before hitting save, but he played wrong notes – and in more than one spot.  Jennifer Hambrick’s concert review commented on that as well:

It might have been the Columbus Symphony’s umpteenth performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, but with Mogilevsky at the keyboard, last night’s performance was anything but business as usual. A nervous-seeming Mogilevsky performed the concerto’s solo-piano introduction with more dynamic ups and downs than usual and a crescendo that peaked too soon.

This erratic introduction became a metaphor for a performance that alternated between technical and artistic brilliance and nerve-racking imprecision. Mogilevsky’s interpretation of the second movement, marked by quicker-than-normal tempi, kept it from lapsing into sentimentality. But underlying it was a sense of panic not normally encountered in performances of one of the most intimate movements in the piano concerto repertoire.

Zeitouni skillfully led the orchestra in solidarity with Mogilevsky’s quick pace in the second and third movements. Mogilevsky’s technique or memory failed him at his entrance in the third movement. And throughout the movement, his tempo changes gave the finale a frenzied feel. Still, not a dull moment.

“Zeitouni skillfully led the orchestra in solidarity…” is an understatement because only an incredibly skilled conductor could have pulled that off and pull it off, Maestro Zeitouni did!  While the orchestra was great and the Maestro brilliant in his conducting, I unfortunately have to agree with the thoughts of an older (looked-to-be retired) patron whom I overheard exclaiming to his friend at intermission “Wasn’t that Rachminoff just awful?”

Like a fine sorbet

The intermission was just what we needed to cleanse our palate and ready ourselves for a wonderful rendition of Brahms’ fourth and last symphony.  I’d never heard it all the way through, but it sure lived up to all the hype!

Wow!  That’s just the first movement, but I definitely need to add this to my music library.  And to think that last year all I knew of Brahms was his ever famous lullaby.  I’ve since added the German Requiem – beautifully performed last year by the CSO – and now this, his 4th Symphony. (And this Saturday, I get to hear the 3rd with the Westerville Symphony Orchestra!)

Having just come off French Horn Week, I now understand why all the horn players were looking forward to the Brahms Concert!  It was a terrific piece for the French Horn. (And of course, I probably watched that section more than any other on Saturday!)  It looked like there was a fifth horn player added to the mix, but without binoculars, I couldn’t tell who it was. Principal Gene Standley, though, had solos throughout the piece which sounded incredible every single time!  Then I saw parts where only he and Adam Koch were playing, then I’d see only Associate Principal Julia Rose and Erin Lano playing.  The entire section was incredible and did not disappoint for even a second!

Hmm…when talking to them last month, they all told me I should listen to Schumann’s Concert Piece for four horns.  Think we can talk the CSO into adding that next year?  Think they take requests?

The entire orchestra sounded great in the second half of the concert.  I was so pleased!  All in all I enjoyed the concert.  The Brahms was wonderful and I loved Brio!  Sure the Rachmaninoff wasn’t what I expected, but I always have my friends Vladimir and Van for that!

In the theatre itself, our seats were great and the orchestral sound that reached us in the rear balcony was wonderful as usual!

Our next concert with our season tickets will be next month when we hear Beethoven’s 5th on November 16.  For that concert, we’re working on getting some of our coworkers to join us.  Fingers crossed we can talk a few people into buying tickets!

Between now and then I’ve picked up an extra ticket for the Mozart: Father and Son concert with French Horn soloist / conductor, James Sommerville, teacher of the CSO’s own Erin Lano, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in person after the concert.  She and Adam Koch asked me which section was going to be next.  While I’m working on the bassoon section, I asked for suggestions.  They both pointed me straight towards Principal violist, Karl Pedersen.

Hmm…maybe I can talk him into playing some of Mozart’s Symphony Concertante?  Of course, I’d also need a violinist for that!  Scheming…

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3 thoughts on “Rachmaninoff and Brahms

    • Thanks, Lisa! I agree – it is a fantastic piece. When interviewing all the horn players, it was fun to see their eyes light up when talking about various pieces – this one especially! I heard / watched a performance of it by the Berliner Philharmoniker and really enjoyed it! (I was treated to a 7-day pass to their digital concert hall! So nice!)

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