4/22 – Gil Shaham, Holst’s The Planets – Christina Johnson

Going
to concerts with friends inevitably makes the concert experience more
interesting for me. Not only does everyone have different interests and
artistic backgrounds, but everyone hears the music differently, leading
to fascinating discussion after the show.

Gil
Shaham performed Elgar’s Violin Concerto superbly.  I enjoy his
impassioned tone, and try to see Mr. Shaham perform whenever I get a
chance.  Aside from Enigma Variations and the Cello Concerto, I don’t
know many of Elgar’s works. Even hearing the Violin Concerto for the
first time, however, the musical language was clearly Elgar’s – emotive
and spirited. It’s curious to think about what makes up the distinctive
sound of various composers’ works – i.e. Copland, Shostakovich,
Stravinsky – and what makes it so recognizable. Even without having
known who wrote a piece, the rhythm, timbre, or structure can clearly
spell it out.

And now a quick and indulgent anecdote about the Planets.

A few years ago I played Holst’s The
Planets while I was in college. Since
it’s such a well-known piece, at the beginning of the first rehearsal
the conductor asked how many of us had played it before. At least 2/3
of the ensemble raised their hands. The conductor seemed a bit
surprised THAT many people raised their hands. A few moments later, he
added “Playing it in marching band doesn’t count.” Easily half of the
students’ hands went down. Hah.

The
Planets took up second half of the program, so the concert hall was
packed. I could go on and on about how fantastic the brass, percussion,
etc sounded, but I suspect I’ll run out of adjectives. The popularity
of The Planets I suspect brought out a fair amount of
first-time symphony-goers and those unfamiliar with classical music,
which in turn meant a LOT of applause between movements.  Often this
frustrates me, but I try to remind myself that the applause signals
enjoyment, and I ty to be glad that someone who isn’t a seasoned
symphony-goer is having a good time (and they will come back to more
performances!)

In
discussing concert on our drive home, the difference in listening
habits by my concert-going companions was very apparent. The intent
visual imagery one of my friends ascribed to the piece was a stark
contrast to my listening habits. While
discussing the piece on the way home, she gave a vivid narrative
description of the violent battlefield scenes of Mars followed by the
arrival of the femininity of Venus, and then drunken
Jupiter. Similarly, the Violin Concerto brought about beautiful
depiction of green fields. Although
I hear these characteristics, unless it’s an expressly programmatic
piece, my listening is not that narrative and only somewhat
pictorial. When
I hear a piece, what I ‘picture’ is more of a combination of emotional
and directional, so it’s fascinating to hear another person’s way of
listening.

Also appreciated from this concert experience was the variety of musical backgrounds my friends bring to the evening. This
time I attended with a vocalist and a percussionist. With my ear honed
to the elements of woodwind sounds, sometimes I overlook other parts of
the ensemble. Once my friends bring up the
minutiae of the choir’s pitch or the choreography involved in playing
percussion parts, I gain a new appreciation – hearing and seeing the
piece and ensemble differently next time.

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Apr 27