Columbus Symphony Orchestra

My Favorite Concert

Oh my gosh – this was going to be so great – Rossini’s overture to the Barber of Seville, horn concerti by both Leopold and Wolfgang Mozart and a symphony by the father of symphonies himself, Haydn. Like a kid in a candy shop, I was grinning from ear to ear from the moment I sat down in my seat Saturday night at the Southern Theatre until I exited to walk to my car.  Except perhaps Billy Joel’s Piano Man, the best music in the world (in this writer’s humble opinion) comes from classical and baroque-era composers and this concert was going to give us at least three major pieces out of the classical era. Awesome!

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Playing a duel-role of both conductor and soloist was James Sommerville, principal horn player with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

When talking to the Columbus Symphony Orchestra horn players earlier this fall, I learned that our own Erin Lano had studied under James Sommerville at the New England Conservatory of Music. How fun to now play for her former teacher.

The concert was so enjoyable to me that I was on the edge of my seat – somehow trying to get closer to the source of the great music! Of course, part of that was out of necessity. It’s true that in the Southern Theatre upper balcony, short people (like me) can’t sit back in our seats if we want to be able to see the entire orchestra. I’m 5’3″ with shoes on – a benefit lost once I actually sit. Because of the high back of the seat in front of me, sitting back in my seat cuts off my view of the closest row of musicians, i.e. the concertmaster, the principal cello and the music director, so I lean forward. Totally OK with this – especially for this concert because it was so enjoyable!

Honestly, except for perhaps the performance of Mozart’s Requiem, this is my favorite concert of the year.  The CSO packed a lot of really great music into one concert.  Wow!

The concert started with a fun rendition of Rossini’s thrice-used overture to the opera, The Barber of Seville – something Mr. Sommerville commented would sound familiar to opera goers everywhere – as well as fans of Bugs Bunny. (upon hearing that the crowd laughed and the retired gentleman sitting next to me commented to his wife “I don’t get it.”  I didn’t explain it, but I’m sure his kids and grandkids would have understood the reference!)  Something I learned at last year’s concert at which Rossini’s William Tell overture was performed, was that Rossini was lazy.  Crazy talented, but lazy just the same.  The overture to The Barber of Seville was an overture to a comedic opera, i.e. a funny opera.  The overture itself is fun.  It’s lively.  It’s happy.  It’s energetic.

In an act that would make all environmentalists proud, Rossini recycled his overture for two other – dramatic – operas, including one written for the Queen of England called “Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra” (Elizabeth, Queen of England).  Hers was a serious, dramatic opera, but it had an oddly familiar, happy and bouncy overture to it.  Hmm.

Keep that serious nature in mind as you watch this video of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd!

Next up was a lovely piece by a Ukrainian composer, Valentin Silvestrov.  It was the brand new music for me of this concert.  Overall, it was pretty mellow in nature, but I especially liked the second movement, the Abendserenade, because of the texture added with the plucking of the strings.  It was very pretty, but if it were the last number of the evening, we all would have NEEDED that Surprise in Haydn’s Surprise symphony!

Next up was the start of some really terrific classical music candy for me: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 3.  And with this, I learned how the soloist also conducted the Symphony.  He got them started and then they all pretty much kept up by ear.  The beauty of being an ensemble of such incredibly talented musicians is that they can do that!

James Sommerville was exciting to watch and a real treat to hear.  No wonder CSO’s Associate Principal horn player, Julia Rose, was looking forward to hearing him! When I asked her to which concert she was most looking forward to playing, she told me this one!  About Mr. Sommerville, she told me,

“He’s one of the best horn players out there.  I’ve been a fan of his since college.  An amazing musician!”

She’s definitely right about that! He had such a beautiful, warm sound. His tone was fantastic – I can’t imagine the control needed to maintain the same quality of tone throughout the entire piece whether he was playing piano or forte– both being volumes we could easily hear even way up in the upper balcony.

Time for Dad

After the intermission came time for Mozart’s dad, Leopold Mozart.  He composed the second horn concerto of the evening, again beautifully played by Mr. Sommerville.  I’d heard a part of this one before – a movement or so, but not the whole thing.  It was a lovely piece as well, but a bit more subdued.  Bear in mind that that’s due to the composition itself, not the performance.

In the day, the music was primarily written for the patron for whom a composer worked. He didn’t write for himself, he wrote for money and that was usually when someone requested the music. It’s not like they could really go out and sell their music on the open market though some tried and a few probably succeeded.  No, music was typically written only at the request of the nobility.  In Herr Mozart’s case, he wrote for the Archbishop of Salzburg. The music was nice, pleasant on the ears, predictable, nothing out of the ordinary.  Subdued.

During the pre-concert chat, we learned from Christopher Purdy that the French horns of Mozarts’ day were more like something like a formal hunting horn – a brass look, but with one loop and no valves, meaning that notes had to be changed with the embouchure.  Try playing a clarinet without any keys!  That’s essentially what they did with the classical-era French horns.  Crazy, huh?

WAKE UP!

Last up on Saturday’s program was a great symphony written by the father of the symphony, Franz Josef Haydn himself!  Symphony No 94 “Surprise.”  Don’t know what the surprise is?  You will when you hear the second movement!  Back in the day, according to what Mr. Purdy told us, Haydn would compose and conduct music that was well-received all around Europe – England, Austria, etc. During some of his regular performances in London he knew that at a certain point in the music, some people would drift off to sleep, apparently not caring that they’re in a public place.  Well – Haydn had a sense of humor and decided to kind of get back at those sleepyheads the best way he knew how: with music.

So in the 2nd movement of his Symphony No 94, he composed a soft, slow, melodic portion of the movement – very soft.  Very tranquil and relaxing…just a few strings…immediately followed by a rather sudden – and rather loud – single note by the entire orchestra.  WAKE UP!!!  I can just picture the old guy in front jumping out of his seat as if he’d just heard what was essentially a sudden musical explosion of sound!

Hee hee!  Love it!

Watch the first minute or so.  It’s a clever trick, I think!

Come on – you have to chuckle at that.  Makes me appreciate and love Haydn all the more!

Ahh – what a great concert.  I absolutely loved it.  Like I said before – I was like a kid in a candy shop.  Give me Baroque or classical and I’m happy as a clam.  Give me Mozart and Haydn and all will be well in the world.

Next up

Well next up is a great and hugely recognized piece of music: Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.  Not sure you know it?  Well trust me – you do.

DA DA DA DAAAAAAAAA!

OK – what melody did you just hear in your head when you read that? Ten bucks says it was Beethoven’s 5th! Want to hear it for real? Well – you’re welcome to join me – and six of my friends (including my 11-year old nephew, Ben) on November 16th when we hear that along with Elgar’s violin concerto and a world premier by Stephen Montague. Beethoven’s 5th – it’s comfort music.  We all know it. We know what to expect and – for my nephew – it will have more “loud parts!” than last year’s Beethoven Symphony No 6.

Seriously – you can’t go wrong!

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