Was it just me, or did the entire beginning half of Friday night’s program seem like nothing but a huge opening number? I mean, maybe it was just because Beethoven’s immortal Fifth Symphony was the last piece to be played and I was overly anxious to hear that piece, but every single number before it (excluding the Star Spangled Banner because hey, that’s a great anthem) felt so unbelievably slow. It’s like, come on, already!!! Finish up! Case in point: Michael Gandolfi’s Selections from The Garden of Cosmic Speculation. Okay, maybe on some other day, in some other frame of mind, I would have enjoyed this piece. But Friday night, I could have killed someone if I heard one more bird chirp during that piece. Now, I understand that in a piece that celebrates the natural world and human life and the nature of the universe and a bunch of other heavy things, references to water and different animals couldn’t be avoided. But I just never fully fell into what this piece was supposed to represent. Maybe it was because Cosmic Speculation was originally written as a huge, hour long piece and the orchestra only played twenty minutes of it. Maybe it was because there was a huge tone change from the first Universe Cascade to the second Willow Twist. Or maybe it was because I hhhhhaaattteeee jazz music and there were some jazz motifs to this piece. Or maybe it was just because I was so anxious to hear Beethoven’s Fifth that I never fully gave Gandolfi’s score a chance. Or, maybe all of the above.
Finally, after the intermission though, it was Beethoven’s turn. It was perfect. It was everything I hoped for. The PSO killed it and I applauded them as enthusiastically as I did Joshua Bell when he performed Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto (and that was some hugely enthusiastic applauding). But you know, I just kept thinking what a double-edged sword it would be to have an original orchestral piece premiere the on a program that also has Beethoven’s Fifth on it. On one hand, it must be hugely flattering. It must mean the people behind the scenes at the PSO really think your work is great cause otherwise, why would they ever perform it in front of a packed house? (And when it’s Beethoven’s Fifth that is on the program, you can bet your life it’ll be a packed house.) At the same time, you are on a program that features The Fifth. Comparisons will inevitably come up and really, who can stand toe to toe and compete with that monster? It’s just such a strong, passionate, completely recognizable piece (a pretty amazing feat in the classical music canon). It has withstood the test of time. Will the same be said about the crazy garden piece? It’s hard to say at this point. Either way, I couldn’t help but think that Gandolfi’s piece stepped into the ring with Ali, and, unfortunately, got knocked out.