Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Waltz Party

This week we are pleased to host guest conductor Sean Newhouse for our Masterworks production, “Strauss for the New Year.” Two works by Johann Strauss II bookend the program, with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A and Tchaikovsky’s Suite from The Sleeping Beauty as the major offerings.

Maestro Newhouse is one of the new breed of sought-after conductors, a product of the Eastman School, the Cleveland Institute, Tanglewood, and Aspen. I admire his focus, his energy, and his ability to feel at home with an orchestra that he essentially knows nothing about.

If you don’t watch the Vienna Philharmonic on TV on New Year’s Day, you are missing one of the great “feel-good” classical experiences. The city that embodies the spirit of the waltz fields a team of happy, smiling virtuosi playing in a style and spirit through which you can almost taste the champagne. Other orchestras who do broadcasts on that holiday never quite match the VPO’s joie de vivre. We will definitely be channeling that spirit via Maestro Newhouse.

As awesome as Strauss’ waltzes are, I feel the need to put in a good word for Tchaikovsky as a waltz composer. The Russian Waltz is a different animal than the Viennese Waltz; a more straightforward and meaty affair. Whereas Strauss goes for lilt and charm eight bars at a time, Tchaikovsky’s waltzes (usually from ballet tableaux) have long, arching phrases that drive to robust conclusions. As examples, recall the three waltzes from the Nutcracker and the ones featured in the suites from Swan Lake and (this week) Sleeping Beauty. On our concerts this Thursday and Friday at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre, the Sleeping Beauty waltz will be immediately followed by Strauss’ Emperor Waltz, allowing for a very interesting comparison of the two styles.

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