Where do child prodigies go after they metamorphose into adults? Many fall by the wayside. Some turn to teaching. Some, in rare instances, continue their careers unabated. Such is the case with violinist Midori, who came to perform Mozart, another prodigy from another age, last Friday and Saturday nights with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.
From the beginning of her career, Midori’s strongest drawing card has been her unflappable technical prowess, which was much in evidence in her performance here. Unable to overwhelm with the kind of swoon evident in the big romantic pieces that are her wont, she showed an unexpected flair for phrasing and note shaping in her performance of Mozart’s third violin concerto.
This technical ability was particularly evident in Midori’s use of the instrumental equivalent of the fil di voce (drawing out the thread of the voice) technique in the aria-like second movement. She played with great suavity and elegance, and her performance was matched by the members of the orchestra. The cadenzas in the first and second movementscadenzas that smacked of Joachimgave Midori a chance to trot out her armamentarium of virtuosic tricks, but the well done simple pleasure of the second movement song gave the greatest pleasure. Perhaps the only fault of the performance was the ragged ensemble return toward the close of the last movement.
André Previn’s “Overture to a Comedy,” which preceded the Mozart and opened the second half of the program, was played with great gusto by the NSO members. The bustling outer sections must surely be a bow to Britten and Walton, but the slower “big tune” middle section was a reminder of Previn’s Hollywood antecedents. It was almost a symphonic portrait of Ward and June Cleaver, and it gave the strings a wonderful chance to revel in domestic romance.
For partly non-symphonic reasons (reasons I will harp on in a minute) the NSO’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony came close to being brilliantclose, but a plantain rather than a banana. This is a work that, when performed with especial detail to the buildup and release of tension, is a musical diary of the composer’s roller-coaster mental statethe final two movements form the best representation of the manic-depressive personality found in art. These internal tensions unraveled in a performance that, while played with great power, verve and conviction, was undermined by some tentative entrances, rushed ensemble playing, small slips in intonation, and occasional synchronization problems. Even the carefully contrived desolation of the last movement was thwarted by the house sound system, which added an unnatural echo in what were supposed to be pregnant pauses.
These, however, were small elements that paled in comparison to the problems engendered by late arriving “patrons.” Now, kind reader, please allow your critic a few personal words. To the habitual latecomers at NSO concerts: GET A LIFE! GET WITH THE PLAN! GET TO THESE CONCERTS ON TIME! This is America. You are not the king of England. It is not your station in life to process in before parting throngs. If you can’t get to the concert on time, DON’T COME.
It was bad enough that people in the audience waited for almost 10 minutes while latecomers were seated after the first movement of the symphony. Those patrons, whose stumble to their seats delayed the second and even the third movements of the Tchaikovsky, displayed boorishness of surpassing magnitude. This hopelessly amateurish performance in the audience vitiated the one by the professionals onstage. Next time, names will be taken.
A Class Act
Let it be said that little of such boorishness was displayed by the audience that attended last Sunday’s concert of chamber music by Lee Gannon in Scarritt-Bennett Center’s Wightman Chapel. They were there to honor one of Nashville’s best known composers of serious music, and they were well rewarded.
Clarinetists David Wilkes and Lee Levine, pianist Timothy Gmeiner, and violist Judith Vann must come in for special praise. Wilkes played “Wet-On-Wet,” a solo clarinet piece written for him by Gannon, with great flair. His performance of the workwhich takes its title from the painting technique popularized by public television’s Bob Rosshad a telling whimsy during the second portion, in which the performer is supposed to play passages “like a happy bush.”
The Gmeiner, Levine and Vann trio did well by Gannon’s evocative “Nashville, Lower Broad.” The concluding passages, a bow to First Baptist Church by way of a short fantasy on “Jesus Lover of My Soul,” were finely handled, as was Gmeiner’s overall performance of a very difficult and atmospheric piano part. (One suggestion here: Gannon might rethink the ideas in the viola and clarinet parts. The similar compass of these two instruments sometimes found the stronger clarinet overpowering the naturally softer viola.)
Gannon’s two choral settings, “A Song of Praise” and “Jesu That Dost in Mary Dwell” were splendid, accessible pieces with a madrigal-like phrasing that kept things from becoming bland. The vocal ensemble, chosen and led by William Taylor, turned in an exemplary performance. These pieces deserve a wider hearing.
Amy Jarman was joined by the composer for three of his songs for mezzo soprano and piano, which were written for Rose Taylor of the University Texas at Austin. Actually, Jarman is a soprano, and some of her low notes lacked solidity. But when she was in her comfortable range, her clear voice and diction gave these songs a special luster. Gannon’s accompaniments, while they did sometimes overpower the singer, made the colorful and demanding piano parts sound effortlessly performed.
Bradley Mansell opened the concert with an introspective reading of Gannon’s “Aurora” for solo cello. This restless, shifting piece was suggestive of the aurora borealis, and the performance had a properly ethereal tone that coalesced in a solid ending reminiscent of one of the Bach cello suites. A collaboration between Mansell and Gannon also resulted in the most serious and extended work on the program, a sonata for cello and piano. This piece displayed the great hallmark of Gannon’s style: an impressionistic, detailed piano part underpinning long, legato melodies for the soloist. The melodies, especially in this sonata, frequently employ instrumental portamenti covering wide intervalic leapsleaps that often fell short. To be sure, many of Mansell’s problems were attributable to the fact that he was suffering from the flu at the performance, but pitch problems, especially in the cello’s higher range, were a particular difficulty in the sonata’s first two movements.
How gratifying it is to report that the work’s concluding movement, a scherzo that received its first performance at this concert, found both Mansell and Gannon focused and in balance. This movement, especially the slow, emotion-packed trio section, provided the most moving moments of both composition and performance. When music making is this good, praise is superfluous.
To close, there were two unique features of the evening, features that came as no surprise to those who know Lee Gannon. The first was a call for the classical music community to participate in some kind of benefit for AIDS that would function as a musical parallel to Artrageous. The second was a drawing for door prizes at a chamber music concertduring the intermission. As to the second, Bennett Tarleton, executive director of the Tennessee Arts Commission, was heard to wonder at the prospect of dish night at the symphony. As to the first, any takers?
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