Monday, October 07, 2002

Adams propels CSO through energetic program




By Nicole Hamilton
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        From the subtle to the showy, gentle to gregarious, Saturday evening's Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra concert at Music Hall was a lesson in adaptability and versatility as the orchestra played an expansive repertoire that seemed like a survey of classical and contemporary music.

        Guest conductor - also the concert's guest composer - John Adams led the CSO through works by Aaron Copland, Giuseppe Verdi, and Ottorino Respighi with passionate energy. Under his direction, the CSO also performed Mr. Adams piano concerto, Century Rolls, featuring pianist Jeffrey Kahane.

        The concert opener, Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man is less identifiable by name than say, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But it's one of those “you'd know it if you heard it” works, even if your car stereo isn't tuned to WGUC-FM, thanks to rock (Emerson, Lake, and Palmer) and jazz musicians (tenor saxophonist Gary Anderson) who have their own interpretations of the short work. It was an ideal way to open Saturday evening. Both brass and percussion sections sounded strong and solid.

        In Copland's “Party Scene” from The Tender Land, sections emulate the personalities of the characters featured in the opera. The closing piece of the opening act, it's seemingly lighthearted but touches on heavier subjects such as hidden fears and young, unrequited love. Through dynamic balance and a sense of timing as an intense dialogue developed among the sections, the CSO conveyed the complexities of the work without sacrificing Copland's innate charming style.

        Mr. Adams, who collaborated with poet Alice Goodman on the Grammy and Emmy award-winning opera Nixon in China, told the audience that his piano concerto Century Rolls pays homage to the great piano composers “from Gershwin to Rachmaninoff to Jelly Roll Morton to Paderewski.”

        In the first movement, the string section effectively took on the mechanical sound of an old piano-roll, providing the backdrop to the hypnotic, sometimes minimalist piano part played well by Mr. Kahane.

        It was in the second and third movements - “Manny's Gym” and “Hail Bop,” that Mr. Kahane excelled. Inspired by French composer Erik Satie's Gymnopedies, the second movement was written for pianist Emanuel Ax. Here, Mr. Kahane captured the soft, languid, subtle and direct style found in Satie's compositions. And he showed great agility in “Hail Bop,” a jazz-inspired piece chock full of tricky rhythm patterns. Mr. Adams told the audience he was surprised - and disappointed - when he learned the Halle-Bopp comet wasn't named in tribute to the music style but for the two astronomers who discovered it.

        The violin and cello sections performed beautifully for Verdi's lush “Prelude” to La Traviata, with Mr. Adams giving them a little extra credit when he asked them to stand afterwards for some well-deserved applause.

        The evening concluded with Respighi's over-the-top Roman Festivals. Nowhere in the four movements is there room to rest for musicians, bows are seldom lifted from the strings, and percussionists didn't sit in their chairs for long.

        The Roman excitement was stirred early in the first movement, “Games in the Circus Maximus,” when three horn players performed their part facing the orchestra from the balcony. The string sections played a haunting chant that climbed in dynamics in the second movement, “The Jubilee,” and the forth movement finale, “The Epiphany,” concluded the evening with a saltarello - an Italia

        ings, and percussionists didn't sit in their chairs for long.

        The Roman excitement was stirred early in the first movement, “Games in the Circus Maximus,” when three horn players performed their part facing the orchestra from the balcony. The string sections played a haunting chant that climbed in dynamics in the second movement, “The Jubilee,” and the forth movement finale, “The Epiphany,” concluded the evening with a saltarello - an Italian dance - with solo trombone playing animated slides.

        Perhaps drawing from the energy of the Respighi symphony, the audience - about three quarters of the house was full - rose to their feet to give Mr. Adams and the CSO a standing ovation.

       



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