No Strauss in Chicago for me today or tomorrow (get well soon, Frau R!) but thanks to the generous Dr. T, who gave me some Carnegie Hall tickets she couldn’t use, I did hear some music this evening. Also, I apologize in advance: if this account of this concert seems somewhat disjointed, it is because as I write this, there are three moderately sloshed biologists painting 3-D models of molecules in my apartment and talking about things that do not have to do with orchestras, like getting fished out of the Gorge at Cornell in one’s underwear. This is not an excuse; it is merely an explanation.
One thing about that big auditorium – what a racket you can make in there! Many varieties of racket. I still have very fond memories of hearing Joyce DiDonato there in 2012, who created a delightful baroque racket that still makes me smile whenever I recall it (not to mention more recent baroque rackets). But tonight’s racket was of the Romantic variety. I sometimes complain about the nineteenth century and its many egregious lapses of taste, but they did invent two very good things: trains, and ginormous modern symphony orchestras.
The program was essentially Three Very Loud Pieces for Large Orchestra, in reverse chronological order. The first was John Adams’s “Slonimsky’s Earbox,” of which I retain no clear memory other than that there was a massive amount of sound. I have not heard a real live full on balls-to-the-wall symphony orchestra in some time, and this involved not only normal instruments, but also three xylophone players, four xylophones, a piano, and an electric keyboard. It was DELIGHTFUL.
Next was Richard Strauss’s Don Juan, and after the intermission Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. In both cases, I particularly enjoyed the solo woodwinds, but most of all the thrill lay in the sheer volume and complexity of sound produced. In the Berlioz, when the theme representing the elusive beloved woman first appears in the woodwinds, I was startled by how loud the accompanying strings were. There are aspects of this piece that I had completely forgotten about because I haven’t heard it live in like forever. By the end, my impressions had degenerated mainly into 1. This is fun! 2. God damn, this is loud! It was great.