Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Opening Night: A Well-Rounded Musical Meal

Ahh, here we are on the eve of opening night with the KSO. On our stands is an eclectic program that really works. Sometimes a concert succeeds, not on the strength of one big blockbuster monsterwork, but with a nice mix of styles and colors, and for that, I am psyched about Thursday and Friday at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre.

There are two works on the concert that are new to me. Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek's 1894 Overture to Donna Diana and Richard Wagner's Overture to Rienzi bookend the show. The Reznicek is a punchy, perky, quirky little gem that qualifies as a “one-hit wonder.” Reznicek was a smart-aleck friend of Richard Strauss, and his compositional response to Strauss' Ein Heldenleben was a tone poem entitled Schlemihl. Wagner was a forerunner of Strauss, and his overture to the 1842 opera Rienzi is a grand ending to a really grand show.

The Háry János-Suite by Zoltán Kodály is a colorful, exotic, lyrical masterpiece by an extremely under-appreciated composer. Overall, Kodaly's musical lexicon is located somewhere between Manuel de Falla and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Simply put (from a musical language standpoint), if you like Carmina, you'll like Háry. Our performance will include the cimbalom, an Eastern European hammered dulcimer that is a striking addition (no pun intended) to the soundscape of the orchestra. There are a couple movements without strings; it's always nice when the “wire choir” gets a break, but woe betide the poor string player that doesn't see the word “tacet” at the top of the page. The third movement is entitled Song. Don't let that simple title fool you, this is as beautiful as orchestral music gets, and I'm pretty sure the Moody Blues were under the influence of Kodály when they wrote Knights in White Satin. The fifth movement Intermezzo is famous for its introductory “orchestral sneeze.”

There's tons of folklore about sneezing, that it validates a truth that was just spoken. Depending on who you ask, the lore is of Flemish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Roman, Egyptian, Greek or Russian origin, but “sneezing on the truth” is a fact of life in many cultures. I sneeze every time I walk into a liquor store, but I digress. In orchestral music, the sneeze works better before the statement is made. Other composers used this device, Beethoven's Eroica Symphony starts with two such sternutations, as does the finale of his 7th. The one at the beginning of Stravinsky's Infernal Dance of King Katschei from the Firebird Suite is probably the most violent sneeze ever; it startles even those playing it.

Speaking of Beethoven, he's going to be there on Thursday and Friday night, too. The Eroica Trio will be playing with us, and this will be a treat. In particular, the solo cello part to the Beethoven “Triple Concerto” is some of the most demanding writing for both the player and the instrument; you will not be disappointed.

Concertgoers should know that Clinch Avenue, the street that runs past the north end of the Tennessee Theatre, is closed to vehicular traffic, but still open to pedestrians. Don't be daunted by the scaffolding next to the building, there is  safe passage on either side of the street, but don't expect to drive through it.

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