Swedish Adventures 2--I went to the symphony

In Swedish Adventure #1, I went to a night of Kaija Saariaho's chamber music. Saariaho is a current Polar Prize laureate, and the concert was the kick off of her year. In my second major Swedish adventure, I headed out to hear the Kungliga Filharmonickerna (Royal Philharmonic).

This was a spur of the moment decision. I was online chatting with a friend about all the tears being spilled over John Adams. Over the course of the conversation, I was contemplating how I should spend the evening, or weekend. I needed to get out and be disconnected from the internet for a while. The topic started with "should I buy some hockey tickets" to "wonder where I can go to a metal show tonight" and finally to "Well, lemme check the konserthuset website and see if there are any interesting concerts."

And there was a concert starting at 7pm that evening. Tickets aren't expensive, and with a student discount, I can actually splurge every so often for "nice" seats. The concert itself didn't have anything on it that astounded me. George Enescu's Suite No. 2, Beethoven's 4th Piano Sonata with Leif Ove Andsnes as soloist, and Nielsen Symphony No. 2. My interest was somewhat piqued with Nielsen--I've never actually heard any of his symphonies live.

So, spur of the moment, I said goodbye to my friend, threw on a dress shirt and khakis (changing from the jeans with the hole in the knee, and a somewhat ratty white tee), and flew out the door. Luck had me arriving at the bus-stop just as a bus rolled up. This is somewhat of a miracle. I've actually never ridden the bus from my apartment to the subway. It stops infrequently, and I'm too impatient to just wait 10 minutes...especially since it's a 15 minute walk.

On the bus I leapt (which, btw, my browser is saying isn't a word. Made me doubt myself and look it up. Chrome, you're wrong). No, I actually did leap onto the bus, as I had to sprint the last half block to catch the bus. The public transit in Stockholm really is fantastic (AND CLEAN!). But enough about travel.

So, here I am, last minute decision to go to a concert. I purchase a nice ticket, but not "amazing." Floor level, slightly to the right of center, just back from the "middle" row. The hall is beautiful, the seats are comfortable, and I'm surrounded by strangers all coming to hear the orchestra. My first thought is "wow, there's a goodly number of people around my age. That's awesome. Wonder how many are here for the soloist?" It wasn't sold out, but had a good sized audience, definitely respectable.

The piece was Enescu's Suite No. 2. It is just as Enescu always is: an pseudo neo-classicist, basic developmental techniques, lots of repetition of themes, and Romantic orchestration. I've heard Enescu live before, and it's surprising how homogeneous is style is. But I didn't really come for the Enescu. That being said, I don't write off music just because I didn't come for it.

During the first movement, I stated to notice things about the orchestra. There was a lot of eye contact between principals. The principals were cuing in their sections, turning slightly and bringing them in. The players were moving, really moving with the music. I swear the viola section was going to jump out of their chairs.

Later in the Enescu, there was a duet between the principal cello and violin. They played it like chamber music. The moved together, were almost staring each other down. The principal violist was smiling the whole time. I noticed some second violins, especially toward the rear chairs, really getting into the fast and loud moments. It seemed like everyone leaned back a little bit when they got quieter.

The orchestra was active. They were engaged. By the time the piece was in the final movement, they had me. Here I was enjoying a piece of music I don't particularly like because the orchestra, almost every member I could see, was engaged and enjoying themselves. They were having fun playing.

The Beethoven was the same. It was obvious Andsnes loves the piece. There were no flowery movements like you'd see from Lang Lang (or Liberace Jr.). But he moved. When the orchestra took up a phrase, it was obvious they had been paying attention to how Andsnes just played it. During a cadenza, I looked around the orchestra. There were first violins and cellos toward the back leaning slightly so they could see Andsnes better. The first stand violins were smiling. The associate principle second violinist was swaying lightly to the music. I couldn't quite tell, but I thought her eyes were closed, just soaking in the music. They were enjoying listening to the soloist, but still more than present enough in their own music to nail their next entrance.

The Nielsen was a joy. This was the piece I was looking forward to, and now I was wondering how they would handle it. It's a large piece. It's loud sections should dwarf Enescu and Beethoven. It's quiets should be sublime. This may have been the one weakness of the group, or perhaps of the hall: the loud sections did not ring out, they were not giant masses of sound. The orchestra was playing with all their might coordinated, but it still felt chamber like. For sheer power, they didn't compare to a NY Phil blasting Bruckner 7. But the players were obviously playing with all their heart.

I walked away feeling invigorated. I'll be honest, there have been few orchestral performances that really drew me into the action. NY Phil and Bruckner 7 was great--I love that piece, so a good performance will always draw me in. But it's what happened during the pieces I don't love that impressed me.

I pulled up a recording of Enescu Suite No. 2 from Naxos today, just to make sure my brain wasn't faulty. It didn't impress me. It's a lively piece at times, but everything seemed very formulaic and conservative. And his "fake endings" didn't add any suspense. Instead, it seemed like he had finished talking, then had one more sentence that was of no importance tacked on. It was alright to listen to the recording, but not something I'd search out.

And that's when I made the final decision: I will go to another Kungliga Filharmonikerna concert. If they wow me with their intensity and connection to the music again, I'll know that what happened was not a fluke.

This seems like a group the genuinely loves to play music. And because of that, for the first time in quite a long time, I really enjoyed going to a symphony. I would go to a concert by the Kungliga Filharmonikerna of music I don't like. I'd go to an all Mozart concert. Why?

Because I think they'll draw me into the performance. And if they can do that, then I'll undoubtedly hear things in Mozart that I've never heard. I'll hear Mozart the way Mozart should be heard.

No other symphony has made me feel this way. The only other orchestral experience I've had that's really similar happened while playing trombone at DePauw. We did a concert on a "short turnaround," only four weeks. So, Prof. Smith pulled out Dvorak Symphony 7 since he assumed lots of string players would know it. He was right. And during that performance, I saw him slowly light up as the group really played well together. So many people knew the music. When I got my cue for the trombone melody at the end, he was flushed, and instead of the direct, somewhat reserved cue I usually got from him, I got a huge sweep of the arm and Prof Smith rising almost to his tip-toes.

I nailed that entrance. I nailed my line. I felt the energy.

Last night, with Kungliga Filharmonikerna, I felt that energy in the audience. And that is a fantastic feeling, and something missing from many performances these days.

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