Audience Choice (and James Horner’s 4 favorite notes)

Just a few words from “Dad” before Callum’s review. As I was sitting there at this concert, watching the strings of the Canton Symphony fly through the quicker passages of the Rossini overture so cleanly and effortlessly, with perfect precision, I was struck by a thought. (This doesn’t happen often, so I figure it might be blog-worthy when it does.) My thought?… what a contrast. What a difference the leadership of an exceptional conductor like Gerhardt Zimmermann makes to an orchestra. Because for some reason, the clarity and ease of the ensemble playing at that moment during this concert brought back the contrasting memory of hearing this orchestra rehearsed quite a few years ago by a guest conductor. I won’t mention the conductor’s name, but it’s no one famous. In fact, it turns out this person is no longer in the business of conducting. Based on that rehearsal years ago, I would’ve said they had no business being there in the first place, so I’m not surprised (maybe even relieved). It’s not that the rehearsal was that awful, but there was one particular stretch that I’ll never forget.

The conductor was rehearsing the orchestra in what should have been a completely straightforward, simple section of a fairly popular Schubert symphony. It wasn’t the “Unfinished” or “The Great” C Major, but it also wasn’t #1 or #2.  OK I’ll just tell you… it was the third movement of #6. Sure, I can understand it might get a little messy at first getting everyone on the same page and pulse, but this became downright painful to watch. He started them off, and there was a little raggedness. So he immediately cut them off and demanded they watch his baton more closely. He started again, this time much more emphatic with his ictus. It sounded worse. Well now he began berating them, getting more tense and tightly-wound by the measure, and the more “clearly” he indicated the beat (at least in his mind), and the more frantically he beat the air, the more messy it all became.

Such a contrast to what I was watching at this concert in December. Gerhardt Zimmermann was hardly conducting at all. He basically gave them an “upbeat” that was really more of a collective breath, and then just let them play, trusting their innate musicality and inner sense of the pulse. And they responded with the most beautiful and cohesive playing you can imagine, as they always do under his baton. Well… so much for a “few” words. Here’s Callum.

Callum’s “review” of the December 2, 2012 MasterWorks concert

My dad and I went to the Canton Symphony concert they called “Audience Choice,” and we loved it. People had voted on what the orchestra should play on the concert. The pieces that they played were by Rossini, Mozart, and Rachmaninoff. I was really sick the weekend of the concert (and for a long time after that, too). I tried to sleep all afternoon, right up until the concert, hoping I would feel better. I was really disappointed that we had to miss the pre-concert lecture, because I was still in bed. The assistant conductor, Rachel Waddell, gave the lecture, and I’m sure it was really good. Our seats were just a few rows from the stage. We got them from my Aunt Carole. She has season tickets, but she couldn’t go to this concert, so she gave us her tickets. We sat up there for only one piece (the Rossini), because it was so hard for me not to cough. My dad and I were afraid I would distract people around us and even the musicians on the stage, since we were so close. So after the first piece, we went up in the balcony way over on the side, where we weren’t very close to anyone. That way I didn’t have to worry so much. I was able to keep myself from coughing, but most of the time it was really, really hard. A few times, I didn’t think I could make it through the concert and that we would have to leave. But I’m glad we stayed, because I really loved the music.

Before the first piece (the Rossini), Mr. Zimmermann told a really funny story. You know how this Rossini overture (La gazza ladra) starts out with two snare drum rolls? If you’re not sure how it sounds, here’s a video: La gazza ladra. Well, there was an orchestra in Texas that used to start every concert with the national anthem, which also starts with a snare drum roll. So the audience would always stand up to sing when they heard the snare drum. Well, for some reason, the conductor decided to stop doing that, and the first piece they played on the first concert without the Star Spangled Banner was… this same Rossini overture. So, you can imagine what happened. Mr. Zimmermann said that the whole audience stood up when they heard the first drum roll. Then when it stopped, they got confused and sat back down. Then he said only about half the audience stood up when they heard the second snare drum, and then they sat down again, even more confused. I know I’ve said before how much I love it when Mr. Zimmermann talks, and how great he is at telling funny stories. And this one was a great way to start this concert.

The Rossini was very fast and fun, at least most of it. Part of it sounded like a march. This piece sounds really famous to me. You know when you see movies and something seems all easy going, like there is no problem in life? Well, part of this piece sounds like some of the music you would hear. The part I’m talking about sort of reminds me of a really famous piece by Johann Strauss (II), because it reminds me of a waltz. My dad says the one I’m thinking of is called The Blue Danube. I think I hear this Rossini piece all the time, well, most of it. I only really hear the really famous part. I also really like the trombone parts. I guess I tend to notice those since I’m starting to play trombone. They’re really great, and the trombones in the orchestra sounded great playing them, too.

Then they played a piano concerto by Mozart. It’s his 24th piano concerto, and it sounded really familiar to me, at least the second movement did. That’s because my dad used to play it for me a lot when I was little, when I was going to sleep. The pianist was really good. She played it so well, and really beautifully. She also taught a master class the day before, and my dad and I went to it. She is an amazing teacher, and I think it would be awesome to be one of the students to have a lesson with her. But it would also be really difficult, too. I was also really sick during the master class, so it was hard for me to concentrate, but I could still definitely tell what a great teacher she is. It was at Malone, the same place that we saw Menahem Pressler give a master class.

Then after intermission, they played Rachmaninoff’s first symphony. We came really close to leaving before it started because I was feeling so bad, but like I said before, I was glad we stayed. I really liked this symphony, but parts of it sounded sort of weird to me. Every movement starts out with a four note theme that sounds really minor, and even sort of scary. It’s also used a lot during the whole symphony. For some reason, every time I heard it, I thought of Alfred Hitchcock. I even pictured him with a different background or something different happening every time. What’s sort of funny is that I’ve never actually seen any of his movies or his TV show, but my dad told me one time that he would always show up somehow in his movies, sometimes even just as a shadow or something like that. I’ve also read some of the Three Investigators books, and he’s in those, too. So I even pictured him with the 3 Investigators at one point during the symphony. I don’t remember what movement it was. Plus, I thought a lot of the symphony sounded like movie music. My dad said that a movie composer, James Horner, uses that 4-note theme in almost every movie he writes music for, and that a couple other movie composers have used it, too. (Note from dad: Here’s a short video someone made showing just a few of those: “The Theme is Back!“) My dad also told me that the first time this symphony was played, the conductor, who was sort of a famous composer, was probably drunk, and the performance was bad and so people didn’t like the piece. Rachmaninoff was so upset that he left before the end of it. He got depressed about it and didn’t compose anything for a few years. I bet he didn’t want the same conductor to conduct any more of his music after that. That would not be a good idea.

My dad was surprised that people picked this as the symphony for the orchestra to play on this concert, and knew Mr. Zimmermann was surprised, too. So we were looking forward to hearing what he would say about it, figuring it would be funny, and of course it was. He said he thought that they would pick the fourth symphony by Brahms instead, and he wondered if people just hadn’t read the whole thing, and thought they were voting for Rachmaninoff’s second symphony instead of his first. He didn’t say anything bad about the first symphony, just that it wasn’t one of Rachmaninoff’s popular pieces. I really loved this piece, except I was really struggling with my cold, so couldn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to. When the Canton Symphony played it at this concert, there was a standing ovation, totally different than the first time it was performed. They played it so well, as usual. There are also really good trombone parts in it. I heard the Dies Irae a lot in this symphony, too. My dad says Rachmaninoff used it in almost every big piece he wrote.

I’m really excited about the next CSO concert, because Andre Watts is playing, and both my dad and my piano teacher say he’s one of the greatest pianists. I can’t wait to see him play. And I hope as many people as possible come to see him, too. And of course I’m not just excited because of Mr. Watts being here, but just because it’s another Canton Symphony concert, and they’re always great!

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