When the Orchestra “is the Soloist”: The PSO Playing Mozart, Haydn & Bartok – Naomi Yoran

No wonder that the title of last concert’s program was ‘Orchestral Showcase’.

It felt as a novelty: the PSO performed a full program without having any soloist stepping forward, capturing our full attention. After the concert I looked through the Season Guide and reaffirmed my thought: the only other program without a soloist had been performed on the last week of October, 2006. (Beethoven’s ‘5th Symphony’ & three tone poems by Brahms). But even at that concert, The Mendelssohn Choir, although at back stage, "added Drama" to the Orchestra. So for me, this does not count.

The next & final two concerts of the season will feature a solo pianist (Marc-Andre Hamlin) and a solo violinist (Sara Chang) respectivly. So out of 21 concerts, the PSO offered us just one entire program where it took center stage… Why?

Does it have to do with the " conventional perception" that only a
soloist (famous or on his / her way up) will "bring in" the audience?
Does it have to do with the wish of creating an "emotional climax" by
having us focus on a virtuoso? One way or the other, and especially
during the last concert which was brilliant, I wished that the PSO would have performed many more Showcases‘!

Just think about it: here is this great orchestra with just one
concert to shine from beginig till end! I can’t count the times in past
concerts, during many years, when my applause was directed to these great musicians,
to this grand organism playing what I can only describe as beautiful
miracles… How many times I have return for a second hearing,
immersing myself in the delight of an orchestral piece…

Last concert, having James DePreist "stepping into Fruhbeck de Burgos’ shoes" and keeping the same program intact, was impressing. Yet, during the first part of the concert: Mozart’s ‘Serenata Notturna’ & Haydn’s ‘Symphony No.100’, I got the impression that the PSO could have played without a conductor…

True, Mozart’s ‘6th Serenade’ is chamber music, performed many times without a conductor. But Mozart
created a novelty by combining just string instruments with timpani.
The musicians were communicating with each other as though they were
performing in their own living room. When the timpani joined
(especially at the marches), the timpani positioned to the left, not
behind, as we are accoustomed to in a large orchestra setting, even John Soroka had a "direct conversation" with all the other musicians, performing wonderfully. And what a "conversation" it was!!!

Haydn’s ‘Symphony No.100’, nicknamed "Military", had all the "Haydn’s tricks": from charming melodies to playful humor. I remember Mariss Jansons’ comment a few years ago, saying that every orchestra must play Haydn often, "to keep its musical hygiene at top level". The PSO haven’t forgotten the purpose or the brilliance of play.

Following the intermission, the ‘Concerto for Orchestra’ by Bela Bartok, by definition,formed the orchestra as "the soloist". Much has been written about the conception of this enchanting music, composed far away (geografically & emotionally) from Bartok’s
home-land. Did he perceive it as his "swan song"? I feel so. All the
five movements evoked past expressions and new constructs. So many
moods & emotions: from the lyrical to the robust & in between.
He even did not spare mockery.

[Although, to mock the ‘7th symphony’ of Shostakovich is the last thing I would expect… Shostakovich, who by the time Bartok composed his ‘Concerto for Orchestra’
(1943), already composed eight great symphonies, two operas and an
abundance of all musical forms, establishing him as a giant composer.
Not to say that he was not on safety ground, fearing for his life in a
totalitarian State, while Bartok, although very ill, at least
lived here, in a free country. But who am I to judge the artistic
temperament? Competition & envy & just inability to appreciate
"the other" are quite common. How about James Joice and Marcel Proust,
when finally being introduced to each other, riding side by side in a
carriage through Paris’ boulevards, and keeping quiet. Not even an
exchange of one word…]

Back to the last concert. I felt that having Mozart, Hayden and Bartok in
the last concert, (representing a span of more than 200 years of music)
offered gifts to orchestras to perform as united live bodies, creating
a string of magnificent music. I took it as a personal gift. The PSO delivered this present with not one "recognised" soloist at the front, and I am still grateful for that.

And I want more!

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Jun 1