Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Muti Conducts All-Beethoven
Saturday, January 12
Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, Chicago, Illinois
I attended this concert with my good friend from college and fellow music educator, Peter Held. On the program were three Beethoven works: Leonore Overture No. 3, Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, and Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major (Eroica). The original billing for this concert had Riccardo Muti, the CSO’s music director, conducting. Unfortunately, the weekend prior, he fell ill with the flu and withdrew from the five performances of this program.
In his place was Edo de Waart, music director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (among other posts). When he first walked on stage, I thought he looked a bit like Bernard Haitink, due to his hair color and haircut. The occupant of the seat in front of me was taller than average, so I was not able to see much of de Waart’s work, though of course I heard the results.
I have heard Leonore in live performance twice, and from the same stage, though with different orchestras and from different perspectives. The first time, in March of 2010, was by the Wheaton College Symphony Orchestra, as part of a larger concert presented by Wheaton Conservatory groups in collaboration with the Apollo Chorus of Chicago. At that time, I was backstage with the other groups on the program. It was enjoyable to hear this familiar work, particularly with its offstage trumpet solo (I had been mere feet from the trumpet soloist the last time, taking pictures).
As for the piano concerto, I must admit I am not too familiar with most major piano repertoire or major professional pianists. That said, I found Radu Lupu’s work in the solo part quite pleasing. From my vantage point in the second row of the upper balcony, he seemed to be tapping rather than pressing the keys, effortlessly producing sounds.
After intermission, it was Eroica. Peter and I had both studied this work for half a semester in our senior year instrumental conducting class, and we were amused to see de Waart using the same edition of the score we had been assigned by our professor. This was just the second time I had heard this symphony performed live (the first time being a February 2011 Wheaton College Artist Series presentation of the Philharmonic of Poland, but I was again backstage for that event).
At the start of the second movement, Peter and I turned to each other with a raised eyebrow. We both knew we were thinking the same thing – de Waart was taking a much faster tempo than we were used to. And the orchestra did not seem to like his choice. Principal oboe Eugene Izotov in particular seemed to be fighting the tempo during his solo early in the movement. But the other three movements were executed to my taste, and I was happy to offer the orchestra and pinch-hitting conductor my applause at its end.
Wheaton College Opera Music Theater
Pirates of Penzance
Thursday, January 17
Pierce Memorial Chapel, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois
Every January, the Conservatory of Music at Wheaton College presents a fully-staged opera production. This year was Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic work, Pirates of Penzance, directed by Andy Mangin. Pirates is the story of a pirate apprentice who wants to marry the daughter of a major-general, but making it happen is not so simple. That straightforward storyline is dressed with dozens of fast, humorous songs. It was a thoroughly entertaining production. The production team made the show even more enjoyable by adding a “Wheaton twist” to some of the humor, keeping the audience fully engaged throughout. Even without the induced laughter, we would have been engaged anyway by the spectacular performances of the student cast. I am at the point where I am far enough removed from my own undergraduate years that I did not recognize all the names of cast members, but it was gratifying to see people I did know when they were underclassmen now in lead roles as upperclassmen.
Did you hear any concerts lately? Share your reactions in the comments section below!