Wednesday, January 01, 2014

NYE with the CSO

As usual, we celebrated New Year's Eve with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra under the baton of resident conductor Scott O'Neill, conducting their annual NIGHT IN VIENNA concert. Overall, we had a great time, but there were a few glitches in the evening. The temperature in the hall was crazy hot when we walked in, which made it a bit uncomfortable even into the second half of the program. If you want your audience to fall asleep, turn up the heat. The hall did have a very good audience, which is always good to see.

There were several favorites in the first half of the program, and a few surprises. It was nice to think outside the box this year and include some non-Viennese music, but some of the choices were questionable in the second half.

The first half featured three of those out-of-the-box choices with a guest soprano, Christie Hageman, singing waltzes from Puccini, Gounod, and Rodgers & Hammerstein. These were a nice change of pace.

The first half of the concert was extremely short, under half an hour, which was a little disappointing. The intermission was longer than the first half of the concert.

The second half of the concert had more material, but some of the choices were not ideal. It was a poor choice to have two extremely short excerpts played out of context. The Boccherini minuet flew by so quickly it hardly existed, and even worse, playing only a short section of Mahler's first symphony (not even the entire 2nd movement) made little sense at all.

Things got worse when Ms. Hageman rejoined for two more contemporary pieces. Moon River is indeed a beautiful waltz, but this arrangement was terrible. Henry Mancini understood perfectly how this song had to work in the movie, and deliberately wrote a very simple melody for an actress who is not a singer. He orchestrated it in the simplest of terms, with Audrey Hepburn's untrained voice accompanied by guitar strums and some quiet strings that sneak in after the first few lines. The song is written for a voice that is to be almost sotto voce, with no vibrato. To move this into an operatic soprano, and have it explode in a huge orchestral climax at the end completely kills what the song is all about.

I'll Be Seeing You is also a beautiful song, most remembered for performances by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, so again the operatic voice was not an appropriate choice, and the arrangement couldn't really decide what it wanted to be. I thought I heard a muted jazz trumpet playing on one chorus but it was completely obliterated by over-orchestration.

What I did not list yet were the Viennese classics interspersed throughout the program, which were the highlights of the evening. The symphony's performance of the Pizzicato Polka was probably the best playing of the evening, and it is an underplayed piece. The evening ended as always with a performance of the Blue Danube and Radetzky March. Except for a few hiccups in programming, it was an exceptionally good way to ring in the New Year!

Here's hoping to a great 2014 for the symphony!
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