Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Andrew Litton Joins the Colorado Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Litton has finally joined the Colorado Symphony Orchestra as regular conductor. We were lucky enough to get tickets to his New Year's eve concert last night. I'm happy to welcome a steady new conductor after two years of interim conductors, following the departure of Jeffrey Kahane. Kahane leaves pretty big shoes to fill. He was a fantastic conductor for the orchestra. We had seen Litton only once before, reviewed here.

The first thing I noticed last night is that Litton has reorganized the stage layout for the orchestra, splitting the first and second violins on opposite sides of the stage. This is actually how I prefer things; Mahler specifically preferred it. However players tend to hate it, although they often hate anything that is new or different. In Litton's arrangement, he also moved the basses from audience right to left, and he split the timpani from the rest of the percussion section to the other corner to make room for the basses, essentially reversing their position. I would imagine this is the biggest weakness in this move. In a hall with an extremely wide stage, and poor acoustics on the stage, it is going to be very difficult to keep the orchestra together with the percussion split. I'm guessing he did this to keep the basses closer to the celli, who had swapped places with the second violins.

I would probably have left the basses and timpani where they are, and make the stings, from audience left to right: Violin 1, Viola, Celli, Violin 2. I know that's not a normal arrangement, but I think it would have its benefits, especially for the violas, who would still be between violins and celli.

I did not hear any problems with the orchestra staying together after the first eight bars of the evening, but it was a concert of simple music, mostly Johann Strauss Jr. The most complex piece they played was a movement of Rachmaninov Piano Concerto #2; it is a Denver tradition on New Year's eve to feature a local high school player. The problems in that piece were mostly generated by a very nervous player, who managed to do a fine job nonetheless. Everything else in the evening sounded quite good.

I was a little surprised at the amount of talking by Litton. I actually think it's very important for the conductor to create a relationship with the audience, and introducing the works is a great way for people who are newer to the music to learn how to appreciate it. I did not know Litton did this, and it was mostly a pleasant surprise. Although if he wants to continue using a microphone, he is going to have to find better material than a lame joke about Levi Strauss being the lost brother of Johann.

Welcome to Colorado!

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