Observations at the Symphony

When  Last Wednesday evening.

What  Chopin: Piano concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 11–Beautiful. I’ve heard this piece many times, but never live. Gorgeous music, some of it so delicate you could have heard a pin drop.

Respighi: Fountains of Rome and Pines of Rome–I wasn’t familiar with either of these. Very rousing and cinematic. The final Pine piece had everyone and his brother on stage, including a section of french horn players on the opposite side of the stage, a gong, the pipe organ, and a very busy percussion section. A real crowd pleaser.

Who  Lang Lang on the piano for the Chopin piece. I’d never seen him before. I guess he’s much more toned down than in the past but he’s still got a lot of emotive body language going on at the keyboard as he plays. Entertaining to watch and he seemed very engaged with the orchestra. The audience loved him, the Chicago Tribune critic not so much. It sounded good to me, but what do I know.

Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos was the conductor. He has a distinctive style at the podium, genuflecting to the orchestra, up and down, back and forth. Makes a big show of pointing to each instrument or section as they come in.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra  Even if you’ve heard a piece of classical music a hundred times, there is nothing like hearing and seeing it live. You get a floor show in addition to the thrill (and when it’s really loud, the visceral sensation) of experiencing a symphony orchestra live. Part of the fun for me is watching individual players, marveling at an entire section of violin players sawing back and forth in sync, or trying to correlate the conductor’s movements with the music.

Here are some of the things I noted while watching the CSO last week:

  • Out of eight bass players, seven of them were wearing glasses.
  • None of them were women.
  • Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a female bass player. Ever.
  • One of the violinists was very pregnant.
  • If it’s true what they say about listening to classical music in the womb, that kid has had months of amazing exposure to great music.
  • That kid will never have such a great seat at the orchestra again.
  • There’s only one red head, a clarinet player.
  • When the trumpet section played and the guy on the timpani had his hands free, he stuck his fingers in his ears.
  • Playing the piano has got to be the most thankless job in the orchestra; with everything else going on, unless they’re the only thing playing, you really can’t hear them at all.
  • I love it when musicians make an entrance during the piece; it usually indicates something out of the ordinary and exciting is going to happen.
  • Respighi’s Pines of Janiculum includes a recorded nightingale, the first time I’ve ever heard a pre-recorded sound used in the symphony. I thought it was a neat effect, as opposed to having a flute impersonate the bird.

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