BENAROYA HALL: Joshua Bell/Orpheus Chamber

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BENAROYA HALL: Joshua Bell/Orpheus Chamber

Post by Wallingford » Fri May 06, 2005 1:03 pm

Well, it was all I could remember to do to attend this concert, part of the mini-series of concerts entitled "Visiting Orchestras." MY chief motivation for springing for a package this year was the fact the Cleveland Orchestra's playing at the end of this month (for which I'll duly give a report also). Of the other 2 concerts in this series, neither of which roused my interest, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra--a VERY POPULAR draw in Seattle--was two nights ago. This, and the Moscow Virtuosi concert six months back, was in keeping with the "coffee classics" atmosphere preferred in this city; one who wished to savor a world-class symphonic aggregation had best cast his sights eastward.

Can it have been over 60 years since Sir Thomas Beecham was Seattle's maestro, and he made the remark of our city being "an esthetic dustbin"? That sentiment seemed to echo throughout the evening; I must say, even after Benaroya's hit the 7-year-old mark, that Seattle audiences haven't become significantly more cultured. I sat in two very distinct spots--for the first half, my own seat in the 3rd-tier balcony, during which the elderly gent to my immediate left was beseiged with a deep-snuffling fit which sounded like so much scratch on a defective LP heard thru headphones. For the last half I moved to en empty seat I spotted in the more luxurious 1st tier on the other side of the hall.

I almost wish I'd stayed way up there, as I heard no end of coughing, program-rustling & feet-shuffling as the night wore on. The orchestra itself may have been sufficient cause for many going, but there was also the BIG STAR ATTRACTION--good ol' Josh Bell himself. He really put on a show with his rendering of the Saint-Saens Third Violin Concerto: his moves were artful showmanship, and the public lapped it up. It was an impassioned interpretation--perhaps TOO much so for Saint-Saens. And the four curtain calls (during the last of which Bell & the ensemble got up & left for the wings) were rather predictable coming from the bunch I was with. For everyone concerned (not me, necessarily) it would be downhill all the way in the program's second half.

Kind of a shame, as the program itself seemed chock full of good music. Seattleites don't really get enough Sibelius, and people were liberally yawning, coughing and snorting during the Pelleas & Melisande Incidental Music Suite. That poignant "Melisande" movement sports one of Sibelius's most affecting melodies ever, but it didn't make any difference with the crowd, who didn't savor all those perfectly-placed little silences in this delicate music. Nevertheless, it WAS the one number in which I could concentrate in on my own PERSONAL enjoyment of the concert. I was much struck at how, even in a fairly-unadvantageous spot as the far-right-3rd-tier, the sound was so FOCUSED. The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra prides itself on being a conductorless ensemble (a different concertmaster is elected for each number), and their tightness of sound was much to be admired.

The program's second half was something mainly for the remainder of the crowd to WEATHER, to TOLERATE. One or two people sadly didn't: in Gubaidulina's "Concordanza," a seasoned music-lover had precious little opportunity to bask in the spiritual message this composer's works always impart, for there were shufflings & hackings aplenty from the crowd still a-cooling themselves off after the heroic guest soloist.......and one gent I saw openly and unembarrassedly walking down the main-floor aisle & out the door. This work was one which utilized the musicians' own voices as percussive instruments, and Lord only knows (I thought) what the audience is NOW gonna think; I tortured myself for the next couple of minutes, trying to suppress any kind of grin spreading across my face in fear of triggering any STRONGER risible reaction from that bunch.

My heart went out to these players as the last half wore on: when Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony came around, they seemed all but ready to call it quits, and to hell with any cleanliness of ensemble or sharpness of articulation. The work probably WAS one they'd always chosen to relax with after an arduous evening's work, and they acuitted themselves very well, all told. Only one thing gave me great pause to think here: if the crowd out there's apparently so well-versed in concert etiquette not to clap between movements in the preceding works, then WHY the small-but-strong outburst from a few young folks in the front 2 rows after an awkward silence after the first movement's end? It's something I prefer not dwelling on; I only hope everyone out there who's coming to see Cleveland in 28 days is more appreciative of the experience.
If I could tell my mom and dad
That the things we never had
Never mattered we were always ok
Getting ready for Christmas day
--Paul Simon

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