Saturday, May 2, 2009

High and low endings

I'd left the S.C. Philharmonic performance of Edward Elgar's "Enigma Variations" in March feeling that the orchestra had hit a high point. Talking to music director Morihiko Nakahara a couple of weeks later, he agreed the Elgar took the orchestra to a place it hadn't been so far, during this, Nakahara's first season.
So going into the final concert of the season tonight, I was keeping my expectations in check.
No, that's a lie.
I was excited the orchestra was getting around to playing Gustav Mahler after a decade and I was excited for Nakahara that he was conducting a Mahler symphony for the first time.
I was also jazzed that the orchestra was performing Philip Glass - also a first. And that the Glass, two movements from the "Heroes" symphony, was based on music created by David Bowie and Brian Eno. (The Bowie and Eno projects of the late '70s included "Low," "Heroes" and "The Lodger." These were my introduction to Bowie and the least pop-oriented of all his works. They actually led me to Glass, John Cage and Edgar Varese.)
So when the orchestra launched into an opera overture by Giuseppe Verdi, I figured, OK, this will be over before long. Instead I was completely charmed and engaged.
The orchestra also didn't disappoint on the Glass and although I'm not a huge Glass' fan I very much liked the second piece (just as I very much like the Bowie/Eno music it is based on.)
The Mahler First Symphony was much what I expected. I've heard his bigger and weirder works done by well-known orchestras, but this was just right for the audience and the orchestra. A very solid performance that had me and the rest of the audience smiling and occasionally wincing a bit because it was so nice and loud.
The concert provide a magnificent end Nakahara's first season. Better than the Elgar evening. I felt proud of the orchestra and the audience and the city.
The concert will be broadcast June 1 on SCETV radio. The next Philharmonic season starts in September and tickets go on sale Monday.

I didn't feel so good at another recent ending.
Charles Wadsworth wrapped up his tenure as head a chamber music tour that plays at the Columbia Museum of Art.
The concert late last week, was, as all these concerts are, good. The house was full. Wadsworth is a big deal - founding director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, he started the chamber series at the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, and has run the Spoleto Festival USA chamber series since it started.
But Wadsworth didn’t make a big deal about retiring. He was funny and gracious, said he’d miss us and he’d be back.
A musician friend asked me later if the museum made a big deal out of his departure.
“Yes, unfortunately,” I said.
First a well-intentioned, very smart man read a semi-funny poem that was much too long and would have been funny if it was much shorter. Then the local Steinway piano salesman gave Wadsworth a gold piano pin – fine. At intermission Columbia Mayor Bob Coble read a proclamation that sounded as if it was written by someone who didn’t know much about the series or Wadsworth.

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