VAIL — Not bad, for starters.
This is one of the things that hurts the brain — in a good way — when it comes to Bravo! Vail. We’ve just completed the first of three orchestral residencies this summer.
The Dallas Symphony Orchestra concluded a wonderful run of three symphonic concerts, and here comes The Philadelphia Orchestra, starting Sunday at the Ford Amphitheater with an evening 20th Century masters in Berlioz, Ravel, Saint-Saens, Copland and Sierra, featuring violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg at the Ford Amphitheater.
(Yes, The Philadelphia Orchestra officially kicked off its residency with a pops concert Friday night and tonight is “Cirque de la Symphonie,” but this weekly space will be devoted to the classical-music portion of the festival.)
A look back on Dallas and a sneak peak of Philadelphia:
• Bravo (sorry, obligatory reference) to the town of Vail and the Vail Valley Foundation for the renovation of the Ford Amphitheater. The lawn is fantastic with rock “seating,” as is the new eastern entrance.
• I know most came to Dallas’ opening performance to hear Dvorak’s “New World Symphony,” yet Garrick Ohlsson’s performance of Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto was particularly noteworthy. First of all, it wasn’t Chopin’s First, which Ohlsson performed here in 2000 with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. (For the trivia buffs, Marin Alsop was still conducting the C.S.O., while Andrew Litton, who now conducts the Denver-based orchestra, was leading the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at the time. Got that?)
I love any form of Chopin, but the First is an easy pick for festival organizers. The Second is a bit more nuanced for concerti of that time (1829), and Ohlsson did it justice beautifully. The second movement, the larghetto, was deliciously-expository, squeezing out every bit of emotion, so that I was drained at intermission.
I had forgotten how big of a man Ohlsson is in person — he’s not very big on a CD jewel case or on an iPod — so it was a visual pleasure, as well, to see him interpret such a delicate work. Chopin’s Second does not have a rousing finale and that’s fine. (For example, play any form of Tchaikovsky concerto in Colorado, and one will hear the conclusion as far away as Canada.) That’s fine. Chopin’s Second on Sunday was a profoundly satisfying experience and a grand performance by Ohlsson.
• I found an interesting blog, dated Aug. 9, 2006, on chicagoclassicalmusic.org, written by an orchestra administrator.
“I received a complaint letter from a patron the other day that got me thinking. ... The letter in question this time was a general complaint about our choices in repertory — that it was too much of a mish mash, too many ‘offbeat’ concerts, and that we weren’t featuring enough ‘standard repertory.’”
By the way, the author of said blog was James Palermo, who clearly no longer works for the Grant Park Music Festival in Chicago. This is always the issue involving concert-going crowds, and it cuts both ways. Dvorak’s Ninth on Sunday and Beethoven’s Fifth on Monday are the most standard of “the standard repertoire.” I’m not a big fan of going too standard. I also will admit I don’t want to hear an entire program of 21st Century composers.
The last time I really listened to “New World” was back in high school, which would be during the late ’80s, on a cassette tape. That said, there was a comfort in hearing these venerable works on consecutive nights. Both pieces are like an old friend you haven’t seen in a while. It’s comfortable and, all of a sudden, you’re having a long, involved conversation with her or him. All the notes of the work are right where you left them. There’s a reason they’re in the standard repertory.
Mozart’s sense of humor
• Mozart’s “Concerto for Two Pianos” on Monday: Again, how nice is it for a festival to have a “house” pianist like Anne-Marie McDermott, who is Bravo! Vail’s artistic director? Anytime Mozart is played anywhere, it’s a good thing. I enjoyed this concerto because it shows Mozart in a human light, as opposed being a “dead, white European (composer),” citing another portion of Palermo’s blog back in 2006.
Mozart had a sense of humor and it showed in the concerto played elegantly by McDermott and Alessio Bax, who went back-and-forth in delightful fashion. After all, the composer also set an opera in a harem, quite risque for its time (“Abduction from the Seraglio”) and a divertimento titled, “A Musical Joke.”
• Speaking of composers as actual living human beings, the Strauss leider (with one from Schubert), which made up the first half of Wednesday’s concert, was an experience. Good for Bravo! Vail for distributing the German-English translation. (I’m the first Freud in 700 years not to speak German.)
The songs, deftly crafted by Matthias Goerne, show that while the world has changed vastly in the 100 or so years since they were written, in some ways, we’re not unlike those people who first listened to Strauss’ work. We crave love, food and drink and a better tomorrow.
• The Strauss was part of an eclectic program, which bounced all over Europe in the way only music can — Strauss (Austria), Schubert (Germany), Debussy (France) and Respighi (Italy).
• That was just plain fun and that described Wednesday’s finale, Respighi’s “Pines of Rome.” Just as I still aspire to be the guy who takes the big hammer and strikes it during the final movement of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, I now have a new musical goal. I want to be one of the six trumpeters who got to play on top of the western wall of the Ford Amphitheater. (OK, I don’t know how to play the trumpet, but that’s not important right now.) Respighi’s work traditionally has the trumpeters set off from the orchestra, but that was a nice touch.
• Question: If the sextet hadn’t played well, would they have been allowed down after the performance?
A musical romp around the world
• So The Philadelphia Orchestra has a tough act to follow, not that it’s not more than capable. Sunday night’s concert is another musical romp around the world with Berlioz Ravel, Saint-Saens, Copland and Sierra. Salerno-Sonnenberg will be the soloist for Ravel’s “Tzigane” and Saint-Saens’ “Havanaise.” The violinist has set the Bravo! Vail stage on fire. (Particular favorite moments were the Barber Violin Concerto in 2010 and the same by Bruch in 2011.)
I thought I grew up in the west, San Francisco being about as far west geographically as one can go in the continental 48 states. But Colorado is the true west, and no better place for Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.”
As for Sierra’s “Sinfonia No. 4,” we’re definitely out of the “standard repertoire.” Remain calm. All will be well. Bring an open mind. New is good, people.
• That’s because, at one time, every composer was new, including Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff, which make up Wednesday’s concert. It’s the First Cello Concerto by the former and the Second Symphony from the latter. Maestro Yannick Nezet-Seguin makes his 2013 Bravo! Vail debut. You do not want to miss one of the rising stars of the conducting world.
Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or via email@example.com. He is the sports editor of the paper and also a huge classical music fan, and spends his summers going to Bravo! Vail, playing golf and yelling at the San Francisco Giants.