The Atlanta Symphony, guest conducted by Arild Remmereit (http://www.rpo.org/remmereit/), presented a concert including Verdi’s “La forza del destino,” Tchaikovsky’s Concerto in D major for Violin and Orchestra, and Schuman’s Symphony No. 4 in D minor. The violin soloist was Sergej Krylov 9http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergei_Krylov_(violinist). Remmereit was a last-minute substitution for Nicola Luisotti.
The Verdi was competently played by the ASO in what I thought was a fairly routine presentation. I did notice that Remmereit was very involved in the dynamics of the piece, giving frequent direction to the sections of the orchestra about their volume or lack thereof.
I admit that the Tchaikovsky is not my favorite concerto. I have heard it too many times for it to provide much satisfaction for me. I think that Tchaikovsky’s chamber music and first three symphonies are some of his best works, and seem to reflect a less white-hot emotionality. However, I must admit that this performance of the D Major concerto was quite remarkable. Krylov was absolutely intense in his playing and showed incredible technical skill. His tone was full and he never had to struggle against the orchestra to be heard. This, in part, is also a tribute to Remmereit’s attention to the dynamics of the a piece. In fact, I hear some of the most pianissimo sounds I have ever heard from the ASO. To me, this is equally an important skill for an orchestra as being able to blast accurately a grand finale. Krylov’s tone was warm and he could add an edge when needed. The Atlanta crowd is usually very responsive to guest soloists and often gives stand ovations even when not required (maybe it’s that southern politeness). Well, the audience went wild for Krylov- calling him back to the stage at least four times, accompanied by extended loud applause and cat calls! Krylov responded by priding an encore of the Bach Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. This warhorse is usually heard on an organ and there is debate in the literature about whether, in fact, this piece may have been written for another instrument. Krylov demonstrated that its fits the violin very well. The pieces inner voices and stunning counterpoint showed up very well in this performance. The only time when the transcription ran out of steam was in the thunderous finale. On the organ it is awesome but the violin doesn’t have the thunderous bass to rattle the chest. But Krylov’s performance was nothing short of awesome.
The final piece was Schumann’s Forth Symphony. The piece, in four sections, is played without break. It is a sunny piece, full of pleasant melodies, and wonderful thematic development. Again the ASO performed admirably, with sometimes silken strings and substantial brass. Remmereit continued to prompt the orchestra regarding orchestral balances and dynamics and it paid off. It was a wonderful performance.
Now I will quibble a bit. I found that this program, incorporating pieces from the late Romantic period, to be rather uninspiring. All of the pieces were composed between 1851 and 1878. There were no risks taken by choosing this music. I admire Music Director Spano’s support for contemporary composers (albeit very “listenable” contemporary composers), but this program showed none of that edge. The audience loved this music, but even at that, the house was not full. Maybe we kid ourselves to think that we need the old music to draw the crowds. Including something written even in the last century might have been just the spark needed to make this Tchaikovsky and Schumann all the more thrilling.
I felt this even more strongly when I was driving home. The New York Philharmonic weekly broadcast was on the locale NPR station. The program included Bartok’s First Piano concerto, his suite from the Miraculous Mandarin and Ligeti’s “Clouds and Clocks” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gy%C3%B6rgy_Ligeti). I appreciate that I was hearing music programmed for a very sophisticated audience, but how I would love to hear such a challenging program in Atlanta. I admit that Symphony would be even less crowded than with the late-Romantic concert I just attended, but it would have been a noble failure, at least from an attendance view point. I grant also that the ASO has given us Bartok this season and for that I am grateful. The orchestra was also supposed to do a Ligeti piece, but it was dropped from the schedule.
Programming issues must be a constant headache for music directors. They must program to pull in the audience while balancing the need to support new music. But when the tried and true repertoire fails to bring out the crowds, we may be heading for the kind of trouble that recently befell The Philadelphia Orchestra. Let’s hope not- we don’t need another orchestra suffering from falling receipts and budget deficits.