Sunday, September 21, 2008

Richmond Symphony: Tchaikovskyyyyyyy!

Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony is one crazy work--loud, fast and forceful. A pizzicato third movement is less playful than perverse. By the fourth movement, the music is wound up so tightly, one might worry that a single wrong touch could send the whole contraption spinning out of control, springs and cogs aloft. (If you've never heard it... it's impressively nuts, all the strings playing together at breakneck speed.)

One might worry--and one did, last night at the Richmond Symphony's performance of the symphony under directorial candidate #1, Mikhail Agrest. I didn't worry much, though, because I didn't really believe RSO would lose it in a piece everyone's played before. Possibly the very intent of the piece is to incite anxiety.

I was sitting in the balcony and had a clear view of two violists heaving sighs and brushing hair off their brows during a rest in the last movement. A violinist later told me s/he felt the piece was awfully close to falling apart because Agrest wasn't on top of things. My impression of Agrest in general was that he trusted the orchestra to perform well and sensibly; he wasn't autocratic. Maybe he should have been, at least from one violinist's perspective.

The RSO also performed a trombone concerto by Christopher Rouse, a piece that deserves more play than it probably gets. It begins and ends with thoughtful, at times somber movements; the second movement is dramatic, loud and violent. Agrest introduced the piece with an extended chat, guiding listeners' thoughts toward war, but I was more reminded of nature's power, rather than humans' might. The concerto is made up of many little waves of sound--crescendos and decrescendos--and, taken as a whole, is itself wave-like.

Although the trombone solo was capably played by Michael Mulcahy of the Chicago Symphony, I didn't come away feeling a new appreciation for the trombone--that is, it's not a showboat piece. In fact, sometimes I thought the trombone could have played above the orchestra a little more. Mostly, though, the solo and the orchestra were intentionally collaborative.

I don't think Rouse broke any astonishing new ground, but this concerto moved me. Like an ocean that flattens villages or lulls a raft, music's power comes in many forms.

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