Friday, August 12, 2016

From Tchaikovsky to Ravel at the Brott Festival

Last night we went to hear a concert in the Brott Music Festival Series. It was titled From Tchaikovsky to Ravel and included Ringelspiel by Ana Sokolovic, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #5 in E minor and the Ravel Piano Concerto in G Minor at the McIntyre Theatre on the Mohawk College Fennel Campus.

In past seasons I have attended as many as six of the Brott Music Festival concerts. The venues were local, most were presentations of real orchestral repertoire played by the excellent Academy Orchestra and reasonable priced. When I looked at this year’s season I was surprised to see that only this concert really interested me. The rest were either out of town, pops (Led Zepplin? Really?), chamber or operatic (I love the Pearl Fisher’s Duet and The Marriage of Figaro but I personally don’t need to hear them again.)

Ana Sokolovic on the cover of the Socan Magazine

They opened the concert with Ringelspiel. Ana Sokolovic is a Professor of Composition at the Université de Montréal, an eminent Canadian composer with an impressive biography. She is writing an opera for the COC 2019-20 season. This piece, (Merry Go Round in English), commissioned by the NAC Orchestra, is in five sections played without a pause. It is a somewhat programmatic portrayal of different sorts of ringelspielen. It is also an inventory of effects and extended techniques. Trombones and strings slide from note to note, cellos tap and rattle different parts of their instrument and so forth. It was likely a useful experience for the young musicians to have to incorporate these techniques into what is, no doubt, a challenging piece. Beautiful and engaging for this listener it was not. And so the apparent goal of some composers of Academic New Music to confound and alienate their public continues.

 Sara Davis-Buechner

Next came the Ravel concerto which I had come to hear. The soloist, Sara Davis-Buechner, has had a long and varied career and, as the program informed us, an active repertoire of more than one hundred concerti. She could certainly play this one displaying great virtuosity and enthusiasm. This concerto, though, requires a certain Gallic understatement and elegance which her playing lacked. Moreover, when she brought out dominant lines the others sometimes disappeared. The opening of the slow movement was nearly inaudible to us, in the middle of the floor barely under the balcony. I was prepared to be transported and was not. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by recordings.

The second half was the Tchaikovsky symphony. I’ve now heard the 4th, 5th and 6th in the last year. It could be worse, I suppose, I’ve avoided hearing any of the ballet suites. The strings handled the very busy scale passages with aplomb, the woodwinds and principal horn played the numerous solos beautifully and the brass were tastefully forceful at the climaxes. The first two movement were lead capably, aside from a few not-quite-unamimous entries, by Apprentice Conductor Kirk Kirzer and the waltz and finale by Boris Brott who is a master with this repertoire.

Maestro Boris Brott

Maestro Brott obviously works well with young players and I’ve never heard a performance at the Brott Festival that was less than first-rate. However, the auditorium wasn’t nearly full last night as it has been in the past. It’s hard to persuade folks to buy subscriptions (the lifeblood of any arts organization) when most of the repertoire or venues don’t suit. I’m sure the Festival team and board will look at their numbers and draw some conclusions. It would be a shame to lose this series which provides the only opportunity to hear professional-level orchestral music performances in the summer in our community.

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