When conductors are asked “What instrument do you play?” many of them reply: “Piano, clarinet, violin, drums … ” A precious few (e.g., Bernstein, Solti, Kubelik, Ančerl, Rattle) smile quietly, while their eyes burn with intensity, and respond “My instrument is the orchestra.”
Approaching the orchestra as a single entity, rather than a collection of many disparate parts, the possibilities for greatness, magic and shared experience with the audience increases exponentially. Witness guest artists of the highest rank whose singular approach to their craft (cross-references below) inspires players and listeners alike to escape the safe harbour of “good enough” and sail the much more perilous (and rewarding) open seas of art guided by the millions of “little black dots” that, at best, are mere approximations of what’s on the composer’s mind.
With a title like “Hot, Hot, Hot!” for Pops! 3, the expectation of heady and hedonistic sizzle, zest and pizzazz lurked in every chart, but only neared the boiling point in two Canadian offerings (three movements from Harry Freedman’s Oiseaux Exotiques and Rafael Fuentes’ pair of songs, “Cumbria de la Catrina” and “Caballito Blanco”). In the former, the music was not an arrangement of familiar songs that have legions of excellent versions already in the public domain: Who could have imagined “The Girl from Ipanema” in pizzicato? In the latter, Laura Thomas’ considerable arranging skills were heard to excellent effect even as Fuentes’ voice was nearly lost in the shuffle. More: in his first offering, Thomas knew the music so well, she just let it play, drawing sounds—particularly from the strings—that were largely missing-in-action elsewhere. Why not abandon the baton and just shape the music as understood and felt? Nothing to risk but the next level of greatness!
A new feature in JWR, and in conjunction the Niagara Symphony Association, newcomers to the subscription series concerts are invited to attend free of charge then offer their candid first-time opinion.
For this occasion, my colleague was an early-fifties landscaper, relatively new to Niagara, who had a faint memory of attending an orchestral concert in Toronto many years back.
“The music was very danceable, the percussion were very busy, but that’s part of Latin music. I recognized several songs, but hadn’t thought of them as orchestral, and I don’t know much about the techniques involved but sometimes it sounded a little restricted.
“The conductor could use a teleprompter, she seemed to get lost in her delivery. For the size of the orchestra, it sounds very good—I didn’t nod off, like the young man in front of us. It’s great to see so many people into the music!
“I can see how this music would make great scores for movies, but they need a better mic for the soloist—it would have been good to hear what he was singing. The dancers were nice, perhaps they needed more space to really let go.
“I’m surprised to learn how few rehearsals they have—must feel like Team Canada—they didn’t really have a chance to get together.
“I’d like to know more about orchestral music, but don’t know where to start. Concerts are a lot less expensive here than in the GTA, I’d probably come back to hear a guest artist that I already know or purchase a season ticket to save some money and try things out.” JWR