Columbus Symphony Orchestra

Ravel and Bruckner

Sometimes it’s nice to be wrong.

I’m a subscriber to the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and by subscriber, I mean I bought a 4-pack of tickets to the Masterworks Concert series, i.e. the classical (non-pops) concerts. When picking out my four tickets, I chose 2-3 concerts and my friend, Sarah, chose 2-3 concerts and fortunately we overlapped on a couple. Our four concerts included Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #2, Beethoven’s 5th, Romeo and Juliet and Mozart’s Requiem. Pretty standard fare in the classical music work, but pretty awesome fare, to be sure! I never once considered the Ravel (bleh) or the Bruckner (I’ve heard icky things about his music). Remember – I bought my tickets before I started really expanding my music appreciation beyond Early, Baroque and Classical. Sure, I’d been mildly converted on Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring last year, but that was enough, right?

Apparently not.

For this concert, I lucked into a pair of comp tickets to this weekend’s concert thanks to one of the musicians playing. (Thank you!) Here’s what was on the program and may I just say that I was pleasantly surprised! Here’s my view of the stage – much closer than usual!

Ravel Bruckner concert view

 Olivier Messiaen – Les Offrandes Oubliées
Maurice Ravel – Concerto in D Major for Piano (Left Hand Alone) and Orchestra
Anton Bruckner – Symphony No. 9 in D Minor

With Music Director Jean-Marie Zeitouni at the podium, the concert started with a piece by a composer I’d never heard of before, Olivier Messiaen. As a French major studying in Strasbourg way back when, I never really delved into the classical composers, but I have a lot of music of pop singers like Jean-Jacques Goldman and Patricia Kaas. (Love Patricia Kaas – look her up. Great voice!)

Originally from the beautiful city of Avignon, Messiaen composed Les Offrandes Oubliées after completing his studies at the Conservatoire de Paris. The program notes handed to patrons at the concert said that he was influenced by Stravinsky – as I imagine many composers were after Rite of Spring was performed. This is a piece of music with three parts – slow – FAST – slow. The middle / fast part was my favorite. It was the most intense and thanks to the loud parts, my nephew, Ben, would have loved it. (Last year at the concert with Beethoven’s 6th, Ben commented that there weren’t enough loud parts. He was 10 at the time.) Of course, the three parts corresponded to three theological categories, according to the program: the Cross, Sin and the Eucharist.

Is it really a good sign that my favorite part was the part depicting sin? Hmm. Something to ponder.

It was a wonderful piece though, performed by the CSO for the first time at this concert. I’d be interested in hearing more of his works.

Just one hand

I’ve read that roughly 16 million (yes – million) people lost their lives in WWI – about 2/3 – 1/3 soldiers – civilians. Another 20 million people were wounded. Among them was a pianist named Paul Wittgenstein. After the war, he went around commissioning left-handed piano pieces from a variety of composers such as Strauss, Britton, Prokofiev and Ravel.

Hearing of this piece reminded me of an episode of M.A.S.H. way back when, when Charles operated on a wounded soldier and had to make the decision to either save his leg or his hand. After choosing to save the leg, he learned that the soldier was a pianist who had graduated from Juilliard. I couldn’t embed the video, but click this link to see it. Skip ahead to about 19 minutes in to hear Charles Emerson Winchester talk about Paul Wittgenstein and Ravel.

M.A.S.H. Morale Victory

Pianist Benedetto Lupo performed this piece for us and wow was it beautiful. There were so many parts of the piece that made it sound like there were two hands playing. Amazing what you can do with a challenge and a little determination. (or a lot of determination!)

Funny that throughout the piece, I kept thinking  – boy, this sure reminds me of Bolero…

I liked the Bruckner!

And then the Bruckner. Bruckner’s last symphony is his unfinished Symphony No 9. Oddly, he actually wrote 11 symphonies, but according to our pre-concert chat with Christopher Purdy, Bruckner apparently didn’t like his first two symphony and numbered them as 0 and 00.

I know a handful of people who have outright said that they do not like Bruckner. I’d never heard his work before, so with each subsequent person who said that, I became more and more frightened to hear his music. Yikes! Something must really be wrong with it.

Sigh. There’s nothing wrong with it. Bruckner is just another Austrian composer – he lived from 1824-1896, so he’s in the romantic era, sure, but that’s not horrible, is it? No. Safe to say, it’s not, but I clearly hadn’t given him a fair shake…until this concert.

I really enjoyed this symphony and can now totally understand why brass players like to play it. My first thought while listening to this piece was

Gosh – sure is nice of the strings to accompany the brass!

That’s a little over the top, I’m sure, but since the brass were featured so prominently throughout the piece, one has to wonder! It was fantastic – the brass parts were excellent and it seemed to revolve around them. I kept thinking how intense it was and also how I’d like to hear more!

As for my nephew, Ben would have loved it – it had lots of loud parts! I noticed while watching it that there were nine (count ’em 9) French horn players – including all five that I spoke to for French Horn Week. I noticed that the four hornists in the back row were playing something I learned is called a Wagner horn, or a Wagner tuba.


I found this picture thanks to google because I wanted to show you a side by side picture of the French horn and Wagner horn. I read that it’s kind of a cross between a French horn and a trombone. Bruckner used these horns in his later symphonies. In his 9th, the hornists go back and forth between the two horns – something made easier since they share the same kind of mouthpiece and fingerings.

There’s a brass ensemble out of Vermont who made it a goal to play the Wagner horns. (love the Lionel Richie reference)

All in all it was a wonderful concert that I really enjoyed. My friend and I were amazed with the gorgeous stained glass chandelier almost directly above us.

Ohio Theatre ChandelierFor my part, I couldn’t help thinking of the Phantom of the Opera especially after we learned that the chandelier itself weighs nearly 2-1/2 tons!

February is going to be a great month for concerts with the CSO: A cello concerto by Dvorak on the 1st (My birthday weekend! I’ll be 29. Again.), Lang Lang on the 6th for Prokofiev’s 3rd and lots of Romeo and Juliet music on the 15th (My nephew’s birthday weekend – he’ll be 12!)

On a side note, while I was there, I picked up my tickets for the Romantic Passions concert featuring cellist Mr. Zuill Bailey for a Dvorak cello concerto. About 14 of us from my Peace Corps alumni group are going to that concert, so in addition to the great music, I’ll have some great company.

One thought on “Ravel and Bruckner

  1. You have a huge treat ahead of you; Messiaen was enormously prolific over a long life, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy a lot of his music. I particularly love Turangalila (which is very loud 🙂 and the Quatuor pour le fin du temps, one of the greatest chamber works of the last century.

    Yeah, the Ravel is wonderful!

    As for Bruckner, don’t listen (too much 🙂 to what other people tell you about any particular composer. What they don’t like, you might love.

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