Night At The Symphony Essay, Research Paper
The first reason why I chose to go to the Seattle Symphony production on February 17th, 1998 was that the resources of the featured artists and the conductor Maximiano Valdes were quite plentiful. It was quite easy to find information on the conductor using the library and even the Internet. In fact, Valdes current place of employment, that being the music director of Buffalo Philharmonic has a detailed web page and history of Valdes, including his place of birth and significant accomplishments up to present. With all this information available, the writing of this paper would be significantly easier. Upon arriving at the production, there was an announcement that Maximiano Valdes would in fact not be conducting the Seattle Symphony that night, but a replacement by the name of Jorge Mester would. The announcement was surprising, but the biggest shock was after the concert when the information sought on Mr. Mester was very limited. The information that could be found on Mr. Mester was that the man was quite accomplished, and winner of various awards. Some of the major accomplishments were that of being the current Artistic Director of the National Orchestral Association’s New Music Project and winner of the prestigious Naumberg Prize.
The Seattle Symphony production that I attended February 17th lasted approximately just over a two hours. It started promptly at 7:30 and had a brief 20-minute intermission at 8:30. Not including the intermission, the concert could primarily be divided into three parts. Each of the three parts was different in composer, texture, volume, and instruments used. Although all the parts of the performance where very well done, the second was just exceptional, as it featured the talent of guest cellist, Antonio Meneses.
The first part of the performance started promptly at 7:30 with the orchestra led in followed by the conductor. As stated above, an announcement was then made at this time that stand-by conductor Jorge Mester was replacing Conductor Maximiano Valdes. The first part featured the music of German composer, Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) with the piece, Tragic Overture. Research sought on Mr. Brahms indicated that he was very critical of himself and at one point burned all that he wrote before the age of 19 as well as some sketches of later masterpieces. It is this turmoil within oneself, which later was reflected in his piece of music why I believe this work for that night. An intense piece of music, full of life, requiring if not demanding audience attention. The history that could be sought on Tragic Overture pertained chiefly to the naming of the piece. Apparently Brahms thought that the work should be titled “Melancholy Overture,” but decided against this because the name Tragic Overture sounded better to the ear. According to some critics though, the original title, Melancholy Overture fits better than Tragic Overture because it describes the mood of the work better.
Brahms’ Tragic Overture started very lively, robust, and energetic. Most notably the stringed instruments, such as the violin, cellos, and violas that led a fast pace for other instruments to follow and focused any deviation from audience attention to the stage. It was during this first part of the performance that I noticed the conductor’s passion for the music. Not so much as attention to detail as was which was discovered in a later parts, but the conductor moving his hands simultaneously, in fast rhythmic like motions.
The interlude into the second part of the performance was closed by audience applause and the introduction of guest cellist Antonio Meneses. A special place for Mr. Meneses was made, and he was seated next to the conductor, Jorge Mester. The second work for the night was Edward Elgar’s, Cello Concerto in E minor. Edward Elgar (1857-1934) was an English composer and research sought suggested that up to the time of his wife’s death in 1920 indicated he was a romantic, often reflecting his mood in compositions. One example of this romanticism was his prolific number of works that he produced while they were married and that it is almost implied that he stopped writing works at the time of her death. The idea of Romanticism is also reflected in the instruments used in the second part of the performance. A harp and piano was brought out in addition to the guest cellist. The beginning of the second piece started with a trumpet and almost sounded as an announcement to the piece. One of the things that was apparent throughout this piece was the focus on clarity and purity. The piano and the harp, sometimes a wind instrument such as the flute, often led this texture of softness. In addition to the trumpet at the beginning were the sounds of guest cellist, Mr. Meneses.
It is unquestionable that most of the audience attention was shifted to Mr. Meneses during the second act. One of the first things to notice was that there was no music stand, nor musical notes on front of Mr. Meneses. All the music played by him was from memory. His passion for the cello was demonstrated in his facial expressions and his undivided attention toward the work being played. If somehow an audience member did shift his attention from Mr. Meneses it would be to Mr. Mester. Even though Mr. Meneses was stuptifing the audience with a brilliant performance, the conductor was just as passionate and cautious at attention to detail as in the first work of the night. Mr. Meneses’ cello performance lasted approximately half an hour. To see, this much music played by memory, and the passion displayed was well worth the trip that night to the symphony.
After his performance, Mr. Meneses was host to a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd. It was then time for the intermission followed with the third and final performance of the night; a feature work by Sergey Prokofiev, a modern Russian composer born in 1891. A student of Russian composers, namely, Reinhold Gli?re (1875-1956) and Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), Prokofiev wrote many concertos and ballets. Some of these were considered too radical, and because so, were censored by the socialist government that he lived in. Prokofiev’s Symphony Number 6 in E-flat minor was the third and final work of the night. Prokofiev’s specific Symphony Number 6 in E-flat minor is concluded by many critics as a “wartime work.” This title describing the tension, turbulence and sorrow of World War II. In fact, Prokofiev even admitted to one of his biographers, “Now (1947) we are rejoicing in our great victory, but each of us has wounds that cannot be healed. One has lost those dear to him, another has lost his health. This must not be forgotten!”
The beginning of Symphony Number 6 in E-flat minor started with a drum roll, and due to the excellent acoustical construction of the Seattle Opera House the sound was almost that of an distant airplane crossing the building. The definite feeling of clarity and individuality among the instruments was most prevalent during this time. The stringed instruments such as the violin, viola, and cello chiefly led this clarity and individuality. The beginning also led very quickly into the middle and the tone became very festive, fast, and almost dance-like. Very noticeable at this time were the wind-type instruments that were clear and definitive. The mood was very fast paced led by what I believe was either a clarinet or a flute. The ending of Prokofiev’s Symphony Number 6 in E-flat minor, and also which was ultimately the end of the performance, was very polar in volume and clarity. There were approximately three times where the music was started very softly and clear. The ending was then very increased in volume and played with a more variety of instruments; primarily consisting of brass type instruments and even drums and at the very end, a gong. These three beginnings were led by primarily by string type instruments, then followed by soft notes produced by the wind-type instruments. One example if the softness in the introductions was the way in which the violins were being played. The bow was tapped, almost a bounced off the strings by the violin players. The increase in volume then followed by the actual playing of the violins, and an increase in the use of brass type instruments. The end result was the full orchestra playing, and almost a feeling power coming from the stage, typical to that of a Russian composition.
Throughout Prokofiev’s Symphony production Mr. Mester’s attention to detail and passion for the orchestra did not shift in the least bit. In fact, Mr. Mester’s attitude and focus were apparent though-out the entire symphony production and the crowd members standing ovation at the end of the night reflected this.
Although the Seattle Symphony production that I attended on the night of February 17th was not my first experience with classical music, it was however the first symphony production greatly enriched by the knowledge that I have picked up as a result of the class Music 100. Although my family has a deep appreciation for classical music, and mine is just beginning, the Seattle Symphony production certainly brought many of the musical ideas and terms such as texture and clarity to life. The three works featured February 17th, Johannes Brahms’ Tragic Overture, Edward Elgar’s cello in E-minor, and Sergey Prokofiev’s Symphony Number 6 in E-flat minor were new music that I have not been exposed to. Also the treat of hearing the work of world renounced guest cellist, Antonio Meneses was without doubt a treat. I much enjoyed this Seattle Symphony production and would like to attend another in the future.