Hercules Wears a Dress …and The Shadow Knows


This is Callum’s review of the December 4, 2011 Canton Symphony Orchestra concert (and some events leading up to it)

The Rehearsal

On Thursday night, my dad and I went to the first Canton Symphony rehearsal for their concert that was going to be in a few days. We got to sit in the front row next to a nice man we had met before at an earlier rehearsal. He wants to be a conductor, so he comes to a lot of their rehearsals and concerts. (He was also at the master class that I’m going to talk about next.) The orchestra played only two pieces that night, and they were the Saint-Saëns and the Debussy (more about them later). Mr. Brown conducted and led the rehearsal since Mr. Zimmermann was not in town yet, and he did a really good job. My dad brought a score of the Debussy piece (La Mer), so we read through it while they played it. Not only does the Debussy sometimes sound confusing, but it looks even more complicated. It’s really hard to look at the score without getting a headache.

The Master Class

Saturday morning, we went to Malone University to see a master class taught by Menahem Pressler. Mr. Pressler was in Canton to play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with the orchestra on Sunday night’s concert. He is very famous, and a very, very great pianist. I noticed that when the students first played a piece, they didn’t do as well as they did in the end, because Mr. Pressler does such a great job of teaching. One of the many reasons I liked this master class is because it was at Malone, and I really love Malone because it is where my cousin, Stephanie, goes to college, and I’ve been to a lot of concerts there too. I also liked it because I enjoyed watching Mr. Pressler teach, and I loved hearing the music because they played it very well and it was beautiful and enjoyable. I had never been to a master class so it was a big experience. I would really like to have a class with Mr. Pressler, but not in front of all those people. I hope there is another master class soon and I hope it’s at Malone.

The first pianist, from Malone, played a piece by Mozart. The second pianist was from Bowling Green State University, where my dad went to school to study music, and the pianist was only going to play half of the piece, but he did it so well that Mr. Pressler asked him to play a few more movements. The piece was by Schumann, and I loved it. The third pianist is working on her Master’s degree at Kent State University, and she played Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. It was my favorite piece. I have only heard it with the whole orchestra, so it sounded pretty unusual. The last pianist is from Oberlin, and she played a different piece by Schumann. She was not there when it was her turn. I don’t know who, maybe her teacher, said she was warming up. What she was doing was warming up so she was ready for her lesson, like practicing. But I thought “warming up” meant that, since there is a big fireplace out in the lobby, she was sitting in front of it, actually “warming up.” After she came in, she played really well.

I wish there were more pianists to play at the class. I would love to be like Mr. Pressler and be able to play the piano and teach students like he does, and my piano teacher does. After the master class was awesome too, because there were cookies and punch! So I got to sit in front of that big fireplace and enjoy a really good, big cookie and really good punch. The whole morning was such a great experience.

The Lecture

Before the concert Sunday night, my dad and I went to the pre-concert lecture, and I loved it. It started an hour before the concert, and there were a lot of people there. One of the reasons I loved it was it was very interesting, because we learned some things that were not in the program notes. Another reason I liked it was that the man who gave the lecture, Mr. Albacete, did a great job and used a lot of humor. And also because he played recordings of parts of the music, and he explained about the music before he played it. I loved that! And I also really liked the recordings he used because a couple of them were very, very different than the ones you normally hear. Like the one he played of the Mozart overture used real Turkish instruments, and they were really loud. And the other one was of the end of the Beethoven concerto, but instead of piano and orchestra, it was just piano and I think a string quartet. My dad also told me that it wasn’t a regular piano but was actually what’s called a fortepiano, which was what they had back when Beethoven was alive. So it sounded really different, sort of halfway between a harpsichord and a piano, and kind of tinny like an old saloon piano. So the recording sounded really different that way. And one of the interesting things he told us about the Saint-Saëns piece was that the music in the middle was used in an old radio show called The Shadow. But more about that later! I was really glad we went to the lecture, and I hope we go every time.

The Concert

So then I couldn’t wait for the concert to start, and I was even more excited after going to the lecture because I had learned more about the music. I noticed that the piano was already up on the stage before they played the Mozart overture. I really loved the piece, and I especially recognized the part that we heard in the lecture. The orchestra sounded great as usual.

Then the stage manager came out to prop open the piano lid so the sound could come out more when Mr. Pressler played it, and it was funny because he got applause for it. But more about him later! Then Mr. Pressler and Mr. Zimmermann came out on stage, and the Beethoven began. Mr. Albacete had told us how this concerto is different from most concertos, because it starts out with just the piano by itself, really quietly. I loved it so much, because the music is so beautiful, but also because Mr. Pressler played it so beautifully, just like he taught the students to play in the master class. In between the first movement and the second, everyone clapped even though you’re not supposed to, because Mr. Pressler and the orchestra played it so well. I really liked the second movement too, because I had played just the very beginning of it for my piano lessons a few months ago. And then the last movement was awesome. It was very exciting. Not only did they play the first movement well, but they played the whole concerto so well that they got a standing ovation. I can tell Mr. Pressler really enjoys playing the piano, and that he really enjoyed playing with Mr. Zimmermann and the orchestra.

During intermission, we talked to some people we know and found out that a lot of people in the audience could hear a weird clicking noise that they said almost sounded like a broken metronome that didn’t go with the music and was sort of distracting. They couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. I was glad we didn’t hear it where we were sitting. But there was a woman somewhere behind us with some kind of bells on her sleeves, so every time she moved they jingled. But it wasn’t so loud that it distracted from the great concert.

On the second half of the concert, they played the piece by Saint-Saëns (that I really liked), and then La Mer by Debussy, that was my favorite of the whole night! Before the concert, my dad had played the Saint-Saëns piece for me and told me what it was about, which I thought was really funny. It’s about Hercules being cursed so he has to dress like a woman and use a spinning wheel!  So while they were playing it, I was picturing Hercules sitting on the stage like that. In the middle of the piece, the music gets sort of scary, and to me it sounded like Hercules getting mad that he had to wear a dress! This is the part that we learned in the lecture was used as the theme for that old radio show, The Shadow. So it was really funny that, before the orchestra played the piece, Mr. Zimmermann told the audience to listen carefully because he was going to ask what old radio show used the music. He didn’t know that the people who went to the lecture already knew the answer! I love it so much when he talks to the audience because he has a great sense of humor and always gets everyone to laugh. It was also really nice that he had the stage manager, Mr. Balough, come back on stage to give him a couple gifts because this was his last concert before he retires after 25 years. So the stage manager got applause two times in one concert! After they played the piece, a lady won one of Mr. Zimmermann’s CDs (of Piazzolla’s Four Seasons) because she knew the answer about The Shadow. It was nice that she won it, because she said that her mom used to listen to that show all the time with her grandma. Mr. Zimmermann even played the beginning of the radio show (that ends with “the Shadow knows”) on his iPod for the audience, which sounded really creepy and sort of scared me at first because I didn’t know what it was until I saw what he was doing!

And then they played La Mer, by Debussy, who was one of my favorite composers already because he wrote Clair de Lune and Girl with the Flaxen Hair, and they are a couple of my favorite pieces. And now after hearing the Canton Symphony play La Mer, it is too. I could say so much about it that I loved, but this review is so long already, so I’m just going to say that it was totally awesome. And the rest of the audience thought so too, because they gave the orchestra another standing ovation.  As usual, I can’t wait until the next concert!


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