Saturday, July 28, 2007

National Symphony Orchestra / National Trustees' Summer Music Institute Orchestra, free concert

On Saturday July 28, 2007 the Kennedy Center / National Symphony Orchestra ( ) presented the last free concert of the National Trustees’ Summer Music Institute Orchestra. This is a four week music festival sponsored by the Orchestra for music students aged 14 to 20 form 28 states and a few countries overseas. I saw up front and it was pretty easy to watch the synchronicity of fingering and bowing in the string sections, especially in the Tchaikovsky (below).

The program, conducted by Elizabeth Schulze, consisted of:

(1) Franz Von Suppe: Light Calvary Overture – a martial overture that starts out impressively but simplifies into a spirited romp.

(2) Nicolai Paganini: Violin Concerto #1 in D Major, first movement. The violinist was Cao Qi from Singapore; she played a violin made in France in 1805. Sometimes the second movement and finale of this rather rhetorical and virtuositic concerto are not performed. The playbill notes that the orchestral part was scored in E-flat major with the violin tuned up, to add brilliance, but the piece is usually performed in D. Yet there has always been confusion between “concert pitch” and “international pitch.” Sources give a range of frequencies for Middle C from 256 to 278. Keys have personalities, and to someone with recognition perfect pitch, the 256 calibration sounds right. (Brahm’s Third Symphony really needs to sound like F Major, not F-sharp or G. Mozart piano concertos really sound wrong if mistuned.)

(3) Tchaikovsky. Symphony #4 in f minor. This is always a crowd pleaser with the pizzicato (that tests a student orchestra) and frenzied finale, but it is the first movement, with the brass motto that plays games with the f minor tonality, and then the compound 9/8 rhythms for the themes, the very thorough exposition and development (although Wikipedia finds Tchaikovsky's concept and implementation of "development sections" to be episodic), and then explosive coda, crashing down on fortissimo F's, that drew an applause just for this movement. The orchestra played it with the passion that would befit a youthful work, but Tchaikovsky was 34 when he wrote it. Smallville sometimes draws on Tchaikovsky, a composer whose music dramatizes the struggle of being open about who he really is.

It would be good to see a student orchestra play some large scale early works of romantic composers. One suggestion would be Richard Strauss, many of whose tone poems are early, by the Symphony in F minor, written at 19, with a powerful (somewhat Mendelssohn-like) hymn-like conclusion that will sound familiar despite the work's obscurity. One could try the first piano concerto of Eugene d'Albert, written at 19, a long Liszt-like opus with a stunning fugal cadenza and smashing coda, again with themes that will sound familiar from the movies. Or try the first piano concerto of Ernst von Dohanyi, again with a climactic close that anticipates Rachmaninoff.

One could cart out the g minor "American Youth Concerto" by Marion Bauer, which I learned in the mid 1950s, but I have never seen performed. My favorite piano concerto by a female composer is Amy Beach 's Piano Concerto in c-sharp minor, and unusual key for a concerto (Prokofiev used D-flat major). Sorry, Clara Schumann's a minor concerto sounds perfunctory.

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