Tonight was opening weekend for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra's 2009 season; the (sadly) final season under conductor Jeffrey Kahane.
It was an excellent and sizable concert. It opened with the John Adams minimalist piece, A Short Trip in a Fast Machine. The piece is now over 20 years old, but still feels fairly new, although it is perhaps the most overplayed minimalist piece. I'm not a huge fan of the movement, and I really dislike Philip Glass. Like John Cage, his music is more interesting to talk about than it is to listen to. Glass's biggest weakness is his lack of orchestration skills, kind of the opposite of Bernard Herrmann, one of my favorite composers, who could be described as minimalist, but was a brilliant orchestrator.
I remember hearing the Adams piece on the radio 20 years ago without knowing what it was and thought "That's the best piece I've heard by Philip Glass." I was not completely surprised to find out it was someone else. I remember thinking that the orchestration was much better than Glass.
Tonight it was interesting to hear it live. I was a little surprised that the orchestration was not as good as I remembered. Last year I wrote about a new piece that sounded too much like this one and that it overused the orchestra. Adams definitely overwrites here; seeing it live I realized there were sections that the entire string section was playing but all I could hear were the horns. I also noticed a contrabassoon playing that was completely inaudible at any point in the piece. Nonetheless, it is an entertaining and brief way to open the season. And the orchestra, as always, sounded wonderful.
This was followed by Ingrid Fliter's performance of the Schumann A Minor Piano Concerto. Schumann is not my favorite composer of the era, but this is certainly his most popular piece. Fliter gave an excellent performance of the piece. She was even better in her solo encore of a Chopin Waltz. The rubato showed off her interpretation skills, yet she played it faster than I've ever heard, even putting Pollini to shame.
However, the highlight of the evening was the second half, two pieces by Respighi. The first was a Denver premiere, the Brazilian Impressions. I had never heard this piece; as the title implies, it is quite impressionistic, and unlike the other more famous Respighi pieces. Parts of it reminded me of Gershwin's Cuban Overture, others reminded me of Debussy. It was a wonderful find.
The finale was the Pines of Rome, with Kahane joking about how overplayed the piece is. The orchestra played the showpiece exceptionally well, especially the ending, with the percussion and brass sounding as good as I have ever heard the piece.
It was an exciting start to the season, and I look forward to our next concert!