Thursday, May 03, 2007

Seven Up

Rhode Island Philharmonic
Veterans Memorial Arts and Cultural Center - Providence, RI
Wednesday, May 2nd

The headliner at this concert was Itzhak Perlman, who played Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D Major. It's a coup for any orchestra to bring in a soloist of Perlman's caliber, and as one would expect, there were few empty seats in the house. One of the reasons I don't listen to much classical music anymore is because I find it hard to appreciate something that I am hearing for the first time. Classical music is so circumscribed that conductors and musicians can only make minor tweaks to phrasing and tempos to add their personal touch to a composition. Therefore, it's hard to listen to a single performance in isolation, you need a library of comparable performances of the same piece in you head to tell if you're listening to something truly exceptional.

Beethoven is probably my favorite classical composer, so the all Ludwig van program boded well for me. As I discovered after Perlman began playing, I'm somewhat familiar with the Violin Concerto in D, however, not familiar enough to grade Perlman's performance. Overall, the piece didn't do a whole lot for me. Like most classical performances that I've been to recently, it really didn't hold my attention.

The second half of the concert featured Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. At best, it's his fifth most famous symphony (after the 9th, 5th, 3rd, and 6th), but it's always been one of my favorites. I was cautiously optimistic going into the second half of the concert that I might enjoy what I was about to hear. As it turned out, I was completely blown away by the performance. The thing that I love about the seventh is how boisterous it is. It's constantly bursting with energy and always about to explode but manages to keep everything under control somehow. This point was emphasized by the orchestra, who cranked up the tempo slightly while playing with an almost extreme level of precision. The result was the first time in a long time that I was completely mesmerized by an orchestra.

In some ways, it feels bad to rave about how well a minor-league orchestra played Beethoven's Seventh after hearing one of the most famous soloists in the world play. On the other hand, had Perlman not been the soloist, I probably wouldn't have gone to the concert. In the end, the music matters more than the musician.

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