Saturday, January 23, 2010


Don't get me wrong, Mozart was a genius. He composed a number of pieces that move me no matter how many times I hear them. Yet, an evening of all Mozart is tough to pull off, especially when three of the four pieces are not among his best work. There is a certain sameness to the music of the high Classical era that makes it redundant after a while.

Tonight's concert had several problems. The first was the choice of material. The "Chaconne" from Idomeneo is not one of his best works. I suspect it works better when there are dancers. La Clemenza di Tito might be a great late opera, but the Overture is somewhat messy, lacking the structure that we know from Mozart's greatest works.

The feature piece of the first half was the Piano Concerto #18, performed by Benedetto Lupo. Mozart wrote 27 piano concerti. Unfortunately many of them were banged out over a three year period, and the quality varies drastically. This is not one of his more interesting works. There is one inherent problem in the Classical solo works: the individuality of the performer is often a slave to the style and the strict nature of the music. Lupo did not show much in terms of interpretive skills, with the exception being his wonderful read of the slow movement. Undoubtedly the best section of the piece, the lyrical nature of the piece allowed Lupo to show his melodic skills.

I would love to see more artists improvise their cadenzas. It would breathe more life into music that seems to have become academic in nature. I am also annoyed at the contemporary practice that frowns on people applauding between movements. This was not the case in Mozart's time, and the interplay between performer and audience would inherently make the music more involving.

What I had expected to be the highlight of the evening, and the main reason that I attended the concert, was Mozart's brilliant Symphony #40 in G Minor. This is one of my favorite pieces. From a compositional standpoint, it is absolutely perfect. It is full of interesting and unique musical ideas. (This may be the happiest piece ever written in a minor key.) It's a shame that it was ruined by weak conducting.

Bernard Labadie is the most annoying conductor I have seen. He is the stereotypical example of over-conducting. Both of his hands are constantly in full motion, even when completely unnecessary. He gave entrance cues for every single musical line of every single instrument throughout the entire evening. My wife gave up and closed her eyes for most of the evening. Mozart does NOT need this hand waving. It made me think back to one of the first concerts where I saw Jeffrey Kahane conduct. In mid-performance, he stopped conducting entirely and leaned back off the podium. He trusted his orchestra. This is a lesson Labadie could follow.

Mozart is so well-known that there is no reason to give entry cues to most performers (especially on the G Minor!). Labadie needs to trust his orchestra more. (This also points out that he was using a score. Why? He's supposed to be a Mozart specialist!)

In addition to his over-conducting, Labadie had tempo choices on the G Minor that were so poor that they ruined the evening for me. He took the second movement, an andante, at an allegretto tempo. This robbed the lyrical nature of the movement of any meaning. The orchestra desperately tried to slow down throughout the entire movement. Even worse, he took the minuet at a scherzo tempo, gutting it of any rhythmic importance. (The hemiola stops feeling like a hemiola when you conduct each measure in one!)

Taking the previous two movements so quickly forced him to rush the final movement as well. This one stood up the best. This was also the only time in the evening where I saw the conductor give any interpretation whatsoever. If he had stopped using his left hand exclusively for cuing, he would have been able to give more interpretation throughout the night to the orchestra. I also noticed that the orchestra hardly ever looked at the conductor. They were on auto-pilot because they knew they would get nothing from him. (This has not been the case with other conductors, even on repertoire standards.)

It's a shame, I really wanted to enjoy this concert. I hope for the orchestra's sake that they are not considering Labadie as a replacement for Kahane.
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