BWW Reviews: DRUMS AND DVORAK Collide at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
February 1, 2014 marked my first trip to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and I got to sit in the center orchestra section. I had been to the Cincinnati Music Hall once before for the Megan Hilty/Cincinnati POPs concert, where I sat in the left side balcony, and I have to say that so far it seems that there are no bad seats in the venue. For this concert the sound was slightly fuller and I enjoyed being able to see the faces of each performer better, but I missed being able to see each and every instrument, and which musicians were playing at any particular time. The performance began with a Prelude video about Colin Currie who is a famed Percussionist and who was the guest performer of the evening. It was interesting but unnecessary, and a rather lack luster opening to the performance. Before any music gets played the Concertmaster walks onto the stage and warms the orchestra up, for this particular evening we had the pleasure of having Rebecca McMullan Culnan, the Associate Concertmaster, who did a beautiful job. Then finally were joined by our Conductor for the evening, Christoph König.
The opening song was perfect in that is was the Overture to the Opera Der Freischütz composed by Weber, and it was like experiencing a entire Play in one song. As an audience we felt afraid and relaxed and then scared and then happy. The horns and violins were especially memorable sections during this performance. The quick movements of all the orchestral bows moving together as one reminded me of watching a beautiful ballet. The Overture to Der Freischütz was a fun way to be introduced to The Conductor whom kept the rhythm with his entire body. At different points his finger tips would dance, his legs would plié like a flamingo, his arms would fly through the air gracefully, he would bounce like a jolly man, and sometimes he would even shake with such vigor that we could see his cheeks rattling. With these movements König was able to show us the emotional journeys of each piece.
During the second song, Veni, Veni, Emmanuel for Percussion and Orchestra composed by James MacMillan, we were finally introduced to Colin Currie. I was immediately impressed by Colin's ability to run back and forth across the stage in order to play the wide variety of percussion instruments the piece called for. To the best of Colin's knowledge, MacMillan composed the song one bar at a time with the orchestral and percussion parts being created simultaneously. I was surprised when Colin shared this fact with me because many times during the song the two parts created a very dissonant sound, and the rhythms sounded as if they did not go together. There were lots of very quick and sometimes seemingly rocky tempo changes. Even Colin himself found the dueling rhythms to be difficult when he began playing the piece 18 years ago and some of the symphony members were surprised by the complication of the beats. Luckily there was still a timpani player who was able to help keep the Orchestra on beat. However what seemed to be helpful for Colin was feeling the rhythm in his body just like the Conductor. Although Colin is much more of a modern dancer and a bopper while König is more of a ballet dancer. It should also be noted that although Colin used sheet music while playing the xylophone he had the rest of the piece memorized for every other instrument. At the end of the piece Colin played massive chimes that sounded like church bells, which left a beautiful echo in the space. While he was walking to these the other musicians played small chimes that hung off of their music stands and it took a while for the audience members to figure out where sounds were coming from.
The Final piece of the night was Symphony No.5 in F Major, Op. 76, composed by Antonín Dvo?ák. About five minutes into the 1st movement: Allegro ma non troppo, the conductor tried to quiet down the violin section but unfortunately they were barely watching him so not many of the violinists noticed. This action made me curious about the rest of the musicians, who I soon came to realize rarely looked at the conductor as well. However, the violinists did a better job at watching for König's dynamic cues at the beginning of the 2nd movement: Andante con moto; and the Chellos who opened 2nd movement gave me a warm, comforting feeling. The 3rd movement: Scherzo: Allegro scherzando felt like a tornado swirling, with the Conductor's arms mimicking its exact movements. The 4th movement: Finale: Allegro molto had more of a sinister sound. It was faster, louder; contained lots of runs up and down the scales.
Just for fun, the literal translations of the titles for each of the movements are: