A cosmic evening – Peter Greer

The second half of this season has been
full of pinch hitter conductors. Kudos to the artistic planners for
finding Maestro Statkin at the eleventh hour when Richard Hickox
cancelled because of an ear infection. Slatkin has been long overdue
for a return visit to conduct the PSO, and did he deliver in this all
British program featuring Elgar’s Violin Concerto and Holst’s The
Planets.

I
had last heard him do a program with the PSO featuring his illustrated
lecture of Mussorgsky’s Pictures using a variety of orchestrations. A
decade earlier, I heard him conduct the St. Louis Symphony in a rousing
performance of Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony in Heinz Hall.


It was a privilege to have been invited to sit inside the orchestra for Thursday’s evening rehearsal. I
selected a seat just behind the horn section directly in front of the
timpani. John Soroka was kind enough to present me with earplugs in
case things got uncomfortably loud.  For
those of you who have never heard what it sounds like from within the
orchestra, it’s about as drastic a change from the Family Circle as
viewing a football game in Heinz Field from the end zone as opposed to
the 50 yard line.  I mean I felt like I was at least two time zones away from the conductor. One
can only wonder how it is possible to play together when there is so
much distance separating the rear half the orchestra from the conductor.


When
seated within the orchestra, it is easy to understand why great
conductors must precisely determine and then communicate proper
balances to the musicians. It is simply impossible for an individual
musician to gauge these relationships as one player among a 100
musicians. It
should come as no surprise that during the rehearsal of the Planets,
Slatkin spent as much time perfecting balances and dynamics as he did
fixing ensemble problems.


In
fact, in a previous piano rehearsal with the women’s offstage chorus
much effort was expended on finding the right location for the chorus
and door swing positions for optimum sound transmission (i.e. heavenly
distant but not muffled) to achieve the ethereal effects that conclude
the piece. For big works like the Planets, there is so much to do in
the rehearsals that one does not really get a flow of the piece. But
all the preparation paid off in one dynamite rendition of Holst’s
masterpiece on Friday night.

Not
to overlook the Elgar Violin Concerto. Shaham played gloriously with
much rapport between soloist and conductor. At the end of Thursday’s
rehearsal, I overheard both of them in a fervent discussion of how to
deal with Elgar’s fermata’s. Evidently they found an approach that
worked for them. It certainly worked for me.


As
I was walking back to my car following the rehearsal I ran into a
string player who shall remain nameless. I thanked him profusely for
sharing the rehearsal with me. “For you,” I said, “it must be seem like
a day a typical day at the office, but for me it was magical.”

“Oh no,” he replied. “It is a pleasure to play for someone like Maestro Slatkin who has such a clear beat.”

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Apr 24