Classical Music / Columbus Symphony Orchestra

Baroque Festival

Thanksgiving weekend is now over and Christmas season is in full swing. And while our country is being taken over by a huge wave of crazed commercialism at the moment, I’d like to keep showing my thanks. No need to limit ourselves to just one day, right? With that in mind I thought I’d offer up some additional thanks today – for some great classical music right here in Columbus.

Not sure if you’ve all had a chance to attend any of these, but the Columbus Symphony Orchestra has been putting on some terrific concerts so far this season! Unfortunately I missed Twisted which had the Symphony, the CSO Chorus, Ballet Met and Opera Columbus all on one stage. But since then, I’ve attended the first of the Happy Hour Concert as well as three regular-season concerts.

The first of those concerts was nothing but wonderful Baroque-era goodness and like a kid in a candy store, I thoroughly enjoyed this first concert in the Southern Theatre with my parents and nephew. (Ben – the one who’s now taller than I am!) Here’s what was on the program.

George Frederic Handel

Suite No. 1 in F Major from Water Music

Johann Sebastian Bach

Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G Major, BWV 1049

William Boyce

Symphony No. 1 in B-flat Major

Franz Joseph Haydn

Symphony No. 104 in D Major (“London”)

The Haydn wasn’t actually from the Baroque era, but you can’t say no to Haydn, right?

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?

Prior to attending the concert itself, I heard an interview of Maestro Nicholas McGegan, the guest conductor for this particular concert, on Classical 101, our local Classical Music station. Whenever there’s a guest conductor, or solo musician, Classical 101 (Boyce Lancaster, more often than not) has an interview at 9AM the day of the first concert. It’s perfect timing since that’s the time of day when I’m just getting ready for work, so I can listen to it. I love hearing some of the behind the scenes information on the composers and music itself which is why I also like to attend the Pre-concert chats with Christopher Purdy. It’s especially helpful for music with which I’m not already familiar.

Boyce was kind enough to convert his interview to an .mp3 so I could include it here. Take a listen – the parts about the manuscripts of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos are especially interesting, I think. It’s about 20 minutes long.

Speaking of that pre-concert chat, it was during that time that we learned from the Maestro and Mr. Purdy about which composers we should or should not invite to our dinner parties. Simply put, we should not invite Mozart or Handel (too obnoxious or selfish in terms of taking food) but that Haydn and Mendelssohn would be delightful and polite guests to invite into our homes! We learned that Handel once held a dinner party and excused himself from his guests citing a need to go to write some music down that he was suddenly inspired to write. Unfortunately, they were able to see into that next room where he was actually being served a higher-quality meal than what he was serving his own guests.

The Concert

Despite scratching Handel off our dinner party guest lists, his music is beautiful. The CSO played several movements from his Water Music including a few movements which really showcased the horn section which did a fabulous job!

I’d never heard any of these pieces performed live before so I was especially looking forward to the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4. I grew up with Bach’s music thanks to my Dad who also loved it. I know he was really looking forward to this as well.

With the 4th Brandenburg, three instruments are featured: two flutes and one violin. Flautists Randall Hester (Principal) and Genevieve Briggs did an amazing job. They played just beautifully. What a fun piece it had to be to play. I thought they really played well of each other. Leonid Polonsky though, the Acting Concertmaster, was incredibly good. He was absolutely exceptional. I’d never heard him play anything before – just as a part of the larger ensemble. Wow – he blew us away with his performance.

I loved hearing this piece. I never (ever) get tired of listening to Bach’s music. It’s gorgeous. Simply gorgeous. Give me baroque music and I’m happy. One thing that’s interesting, I think, is the difference between the recorded versions of this piece (I have the English Chamber Orchestra, Phillip Ledger) and the live version. In the live version, the flutes were a little more difficult to hear (remember – I was way in the back of the theatre), but the middle and lower voices were far more prominent – which was most enjoyable. I’ll be honest in that I’d not fully appreciated them before. Perhaps it’s time to pick up a new recording of the Brandenburgs to hear something different and to experiment with another interpretation of the music.

The second half of the concert included the Boyce Symphony – new music to me and quite lovely, too. Not very long – only about 9 minutes long, but it’s worth checking out if you haven’t listened to it already. After that, a classical-era treat with the London Symphony by Haydn. You can’t go wrong with Haydn.

We have so much talent in our orchestra, so I’m thrilled that the CSO is choosing to showcase them this season. Flutes and violin this concert and in the next couple of concerts, we heard the Principal Bassoonist as well as the Principal Cellist and Violist.

What a great start to the season. I’d be happy with a couple more Baroque-only (ish) evenings with the CSO, but alas – we have several hundred years’ worth of music to play over the course of a season, so we don’t want too much of a good thing, right?

Check out the CSO website for upcoming concerts. The Holiday Pops concert is this weekend. I got to go to it last year and it was really good. I’m sure this year will be just as good!

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