Nashville Symphony w/Jon Nakamatsu
8 p.m. Nov. 19-20
Jackson Hall, TPAC
For tickets, call 255-ARTS
In the half-dozen years I’ve been listening closely, the Nashville Symphony has often quickened my pulsethough sometimes it has made me fidget. The Symphony plays really well often enough to prove it can, and not well often enough to make one wonder why it doesn’t. But this season so far has been maybe the most ambitious and gratifying yet; some fine things have already arrived, and more are promised in the spring.
The ensemble’s finest fall performance to date was of the Mozart Piano Concerto in C Minor at War Memorial Auditorium, featuring guest conductor/soloist Ignat Solzhenitsyn. More disappointing was the orchestra’s recent date with 19-year-old violinist Hilary Hahn on the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 4. Hahn herself played exquisitely, and the orchestra played well when on its own. But the musicians were never quite in synch with the soloist.
This is a common problem; in recent memory, it has happened with other soloists as well, among them Isaac Stern, Eugenia Zuckerman, Jessye Norman, Itzhak Perlman, and Tzimon Barto. And it has happened not only with soloists, but sometimes between and among the orchestra’s own sections. Hearing this ever so subtle rhythmic dissonance is like watching a TV screen with an attendant shadow: If the flaw is subtle enough, it can go unnoticed. Even so, this is maybe the most important difference between a pretty good orchestra and a really fine one.
The phenomenon makes me look forward both eagerly and edgily to this weekend’s Symphony programwhich is more than commonly audacious. All the offerings are by composers who live or lived in the 20th centuryone of whom is not yet 40. Aaron Jay Kernis, whose Second Symphony won a Pulitzer Prize in 1998, was born in 1960. This program promises his New Era Dance, commissioned in 1992 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the New York Philharmonic. It is a short, multilayered, virtuosic work for orchestra, incorporating elements of salsa, rap, gypsy-camp folk, disco, and ’50s jazz. Its street-smart blare looks backward toward the then-recent L.A. race riots, and forward toward the millennium drawing nigh. Our Symphony has not played a lot of music like this.
The program also includes Richard Strauss’ “Dance of the Seven Veils” from his opera Salome, based on a German translation of Oscar Wilde’s play. The composer has written a rich and ominously seductive score worthy of his decadent biblical subject.
All this, and some Ravel as well, is on the same program with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, which is, Bryce Morrison says, “arguably the most daunting and opulent of all piano concertos.” It is a piece of quintessential fin de siècle Romanticism, with yearning and torment and ecstasy wrestling together all over the place. It makes enormous demands on both orchestra and soloist, even when they are not playing together.
The Rach 3 has been famously performed by famous orchestras and pianistsamong them Vladimir Horowitz, Emil Gilels, and Van Cliburn, whose International Piano Competition launched the career of Jon Nakamatsu, the soloist for this weekend’s performance. Both soloist and orchestra need to be ready to playand to play together.
When the 29-year-old Nakamatsu won the gold medal playing the Rach 3 in Cliburn’s competition in 1997, he was a German teacher in his native Californiaand the first American to win the gold since 1981. Though he has studied privately since he was 6, he is not a product of the conservatory system. He has degrees in German and education from Stanford University.
But with his gold medal, he also won two years of international concert engagements and career management, and was invited to replace Vladimir Ashkenazy in Brazil as soloist with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. He has appeared with the Boston Pops at Tanglewood, and during the 1998-99 season had engagements with half a dozen of the nation’s prestigious symphony orchestras, culminating in an appearance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. He has toured in Europe and in Latin America. In October ’98, he issued a harmonia mundi CD of selected piano works by Frederic Chopin. He is well off the launch pad, though not very long into his flight.
For him and for our Symphony, this weekend is an opportunity to play welland to play well together. The opportunity carries risks, but not like playing Mozart. A concert pianist once told me he never played Mozart in public. “Mozart strips you naked,” he said. Rachmaninoff doesn’t strip you naked. Because the music is so big and fast and loud, a lot of people may be bowled over by a sonic boom, whether or not the right notes are played in the right places. I foresee lengthy standing ovations on Friday and Saturday evenings. But the soloist and the orchestra playersand some listeners in the hallwill know whether those ovations are deserved.
If only they would show HUDSUCKER PROXY, the Coens' most overlooked and underrated movie. It…
One I'm really looking forward to is KANSAS CITY LIGHTNING, Stanley Crouch's book about Charlie…
Another excellent idea: Prints! Check out Sam Smith's shop of awesome limited-run movie posters: http://samsmyth.wazala.com/widget/?nicknam……
Just realized Rayna is wearing the same frilly pirate blouse I wore for school photo…
It hardly seems news that the classic White Christmas is a corny show with contrivances,…