Last night I went to the first of four Cincinnati Symphony concerts for which I have tickets this season. It is the inaugural weekend for the new director of the symphony, Louis Langrée. When I bought the tickets several weeks ago, I called the ticket office directly and had someone lead me through the purchase and help me select seats. I could have paid more and sat lower or closer, but by choosing the gallery, I had a good combination of view and value, and it sounds great once people stop whispering and start letting the music take hold. So I'll be in the 3rd or 4th row of section Q this season, and that suits me just fine.
Don't you like knowing there are still a few places you can call without fear of tedium, long hold times, and short-tempered or nonsensical people at the other end? It always seems like such a toss of the dice, and I'm not much of a gambler.
If you haven't attended a performance at the Music Hall, or not recently, you should know that it is a thing well worth doing. It's safe and well-lit, and there are people everywhere who seem happy to help you enjoy the experience. As I recall from last season, the coat check situation could be improved, but I'll see how that goes later this month.
I had the GPS on my phone lead me right to the parking garage entrance, because I don't spend enough time in that area to remember one way navigation, especially after dark. When I got in, Dr. Maya Angelou was already on stage speaking, and I was immediately captivated by her voice, cadence of speech, and personality. She was wearing a lovely long white dress and sat in a wheelchair discussing her life and what she believes people can and ought to do for themselves. She's had a remarkable life; broad and rich and worthy of honor and emulation.
Oh, and then the orchestra began to filter in, taking their seats and warming up. This always thrills me, and makes me wish to be a part of it, because there is nothing like orchestral music that is surrounding you as you contribute to it. It isn't just the sound; there's energy and a sort of electricity that infuses you. At the same time, the auditorium seats were filling rapidly. Naturally, I was in front of a man who did not know how to keep still or tuck his feet beneath him, and his wife was a whisperer. Well, this happens. To me, a lot. Anyway.
After the concertmaster arrived, the brass section stood up and played a fanfare for the new director! It was very cool. And when he walked on stage, all stood and applauded his arrival. I felt it was odd at first, yet somehow fitting, that the first piece of music began with the amazing talent of eighth blackbird, an unusual and impressive group of musicians who played Jennifer Higdon's On A Wire. The orchestra joined in after a few minutes, and at one point, nearly every musician on stage was making a percussive sound with their instruments. It was fantastic.
The first time I heard a Jennifer Higdon piece, I wasn't sure I'd like it, because I'm never able to be pulled into what has been a too-long atonal trend in contemporary orchestral compositions. However, she uses a great deal of inventive technique that builds into what feels like an astonishing cohesiveness. Really, I'm hardly anything like an expert, but I think she's got real genius. I'm always leaning forward to take in more. She's going to be looked back on as an influence, and how great is it to be a tiny part of that? I mean, I think we haven't yet heard the best of what she can do; we're just building up to it.
Next up was Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait. (Read lots about it here.) I love Copland. I'll write about why sometime. Three screens were lowered to show old photographs while the music played; images of battlefields, slaves, Abraham Lincoln, slave trade announcements, and civil rights demonstrations. Dr. Angelou was brought on stage and helped into a seat which allowed her to speak from a semi-standing position. She had changed into a gorgeous black evening gown. The music plays for quite awhile before the recitation of quotes from Lincoln, and about Lincoln and his life are spoken. She made it thrilling. One thing Copland did that I always admire when it's used well is to repeat the opening lines poetically. And it suits her particular oratory style perfectly. When the piece was finished, there was thunderous applause. I have been to some great symphonic concerts and some truly memorable rock concerts, but never have I wanted to stand with a crowd and applaud like it would somehow become some solid and lasting thing to give and to carry away. You know, manifesting it into being.
After the intermission, Langrée set Beethoven's Fifth Symphony off like a rocket. At first I thought it was going to gallop too frenetically for me, even in Beethoven terms, but then I realized that it wasn't galloping, it was rolling. I hadn't heard it played quite like this before, and I began to enjoy it. The Fifth is by no means a favorite of mine, but we played the final movement in high school (I've been trying to figure that out for awhile, I don't know,) and I do love that. It still marches through my head frequently. What I liked about last night's performance was that near the end of the scherzo, the third movement, there was this sense of almost running out of breath, and then the fourth took off again like the first. It was palpable. It's…well, it's sensual. There could be a metaphor in it. It wasn't a deep performance, but it was pleasurable.
The final ovations were enthusiastic and sincere, and I liked that. It was a great night and it's going to be a great season.
Okay, I wanted to share that on the trip to the Music Hall, which is 18 miles for me, I was listening to this goofy 90s playlist I made recently. Just as I hit downtown, Kid Rock's "Bawitaba" began. I found this hilarious for some reason. On the way home, I thought Beethoven in my head would be enough, but it took a billion minutes to get past the casino and back to 471-south, and by then I wanted external sound. Classical isn't really good in my car, and who knows what would turn up next on that playlist? The Spice Girls? So I turned on Artie Shaw, and that was a good decision. He was a gigantically egotistical ass, but he was a real musician.