Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Cleveland Orchestra Tito Munoz Conductor, Pierre-Laurent Aimard Piano February 18, 2012

Around this time of year the orchestra's programs often feature guest soloists and more challenging modern classical fare. Last night was no exception. I usually like to stretch myself and go to one of these concerts each year and get exposed to new things. I usually like it more than I did last night.

Pierre Boulez was supposed to conduct, and had to back out last minute for health reasons. Two of the pieces he was to lead were replaced only a week before the performance was scheduled. But I'm not sure that had anything to do with my disappointment.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard started the evening with a solo piano piece by Arnold Schoenberg titled Three Piano Pieces. The program described it as "a seminal work of atonality". That hits it right on the head. I know that there was something going on that may well have been important, but I just couldn't get it. It was, mercifully, only 10-12 minutes long.

Mr. Aimard then conducted Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 18 from the piano. This was the only non-modern classical piece on the program, and I always enjoy Mozart's Piano Concertos.  I'm also reasonably familiar with them. It was a fine reading of the concerto, but it didn't enthrall me the way Mozart usually does. I may have seen Mitzuko Uchida conduct these pieces too many times before, but Ms. Uchida always seems to bring emotion to the concertos without becoming overly dramatic. Mr. Aimard's playing seemed too technical, and less romantic. I'm sure he's a very skilled pianist, but something was lacking.

After the intermission, Tito Munoz conducted two Stravinsky pieces. The first, Symphonies of Wind Instruments was interesting and challenging, and I liked some of it. Stravinsky himself said of the work "I did not, and indeed could not, count on any immediate success for this work. It is devoid of all the elements which infallibly appeal to the ordinary listener and to which he is accustomed. It would be futile to look in it for any passionate impulse or dynamic brilliance." I guess that makes me the ordinary listener in spades.

The final work was Symphony of Psalms, a choral piece for voice and mostly wind instruments, with only basses and cellos for the strings. I've never been big on choral music in general, but the 20th century modernist ideas of Stravinsky in his quest to find new modes of expression welded to choral readings of the Psalms left me cold. Religious music without soul. Odd.

I always think I want to be challenged to expand my horizons with modern classical fare.

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