I'm going to come right out and say it:
The Colorado Symphony is better than the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Don't get me wrong, I worked with the musicians of the LA Phil on many film scores, and they are among the best musicians in the world. But after a season and a half with the CSO, I'm going to say that they are even better than the LA Phil. Tonight's concert with the Colorado Symphony was magnificent.
The evening started unevenly with Mussorgsky's orchestration of NIGHT ON BALD MOUNTAIN. As Steve Ledbetter's notes point out, there were multiple versions of this piece, with the most famous version being Rimsky-Korsakov's edited and re-orchestrated version. Until tonight I had not heard this original version live, only on recording. Now I am prepared to say that Rimsky's version is far better. He is a master orchestrator. Not only is his version more flashy, it is simply better balanced. At times it was almost impossible to hear the violins on the Mussorgsky version.
But the night jumped forward on the Prokofiev Violin Concerto #1. Soloist Leila Josefowicz played the crap out of this piece. Admittedly it is difficult for everyone, the soloist, orchestra, conductor, and the audience. It's not atonal, but very challenging harmonically. The violin part is beyond difficult. There is one section in the second movement which seems like endless 16th notes, followed by seemingly impossible harmonics. She played it flawlessly. I did not hear a technical mistake anywhere in her performance (although one of the bass players dropped his bow in one of the more difficult sections).
Her encore was even more amazing, a section of Esa-Pekka Salonen's Lachen Verlernt (Laughter Unlearned). The girl can shred!
The second half of the program was Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. Guest conductor Edward Gardner showed why he is rumored to be the next main conductor of the CSO. I've heard this piece innumerable times, yet he brought out new lines in the piece. He played the scherzo so fast I thought it would make the finale anti-climactic, yet he still had the orchestra reach new climaxes. Parts of the 7th are perhaps among Beethoven's best writing. The structure is nearly perfect, particularly the slow movement, which was so popular it was frequently used to replace movements in other symphonies. It also has the best of Beethoven's counterpoint. If I ever forget reasons to live, listening to Beethoven again gives life meaning. No matter how many times I hear this piece, it's still brilliant.
I'm not sure Garnder is the perfect choice to replace Jeffrey Kahane. His conducting on the first two pieces was not perfect, and I think a more emotional conductor with wider musical range might be better. But he certainly made a case with the Beethoven.