Sunday, September 27, 2009

Concert review complete with crowd effects

At the outset, it should be known that I have few, if any, of the credentials necessary to review any kind of concert, much less a classical music concert performed by an orchestra. Of course, having a deep background in your topic area is generally overkill when it comes to blogging.

I have, unlike many bloggers, struggled to read trombone parts written in tenor clef while participating in my high school and college symphonies. And I pride myself for being able to identify out-of-tune horns (French, English and car).

One more caveat before diving into my review of today’s Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra concert at the Barnstable High School: This is a humor column. No one who plays in the symphony orchestra, is employed by the symphony orchestra, or is a supporter of the symphony orchestra should take any of my negative observations as a serious critique of the symphony orchestra, its employees, or its supporters.

To make things a little more interesting, I’m going to insert the same crowd noises into my review [DRY COUGH] that occurred during today’s matinee performance (which tends to attract an older, phlegm-challenged audience). And, because I am a consummate professional, like Conductor Jung-Ho Pak and all of the orchestra members, I will ignore [HACK] these crowd noises and plow through my review, not showing the least sign of how distracting [THROAT CLEARING AHEM] they are.

This opening concert of the symphony’s 48th season started with the Star Spangled Banner. A lady behind me with a beautiful, though fff voice, belted out the words with more confidence than anyone opening a game at Fenway this year. During that highest note in the bridge, “glare” I believe, my left ear shut down, going into that tinnitus tone reminiscent of a television at 1 a.m. before broadcasts went 24/7.

Autumn was the theme of the concert and, appropriately, the first piece was Autumn from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons for Violin and Orchestra. The orchestra [SNEEZE] trimmed down to the string section plus harpsichord and was joined by Lindsay Deutsch, guest violinist. Lindsay was [WET COUGH] emotive, a master technician, and had a very robust lower register. The string ensemble is much improved over what I remember from several years ago; more like one person playing fifteen violins than fifteen violinists competing for the same open space.

Autumn was followed by an original piece written for solo violin by Paul Salerni who, by an amazing coincidence, just happened to have bought a ticket for today’s performance and was sitting a few rows back from center stage. An arrangement based on Autumn Leaves, the classic jazz tune from the 1940s, Lindsay tore it up, transitioning from [ODD NOISE SOUNDING LIKE A CANADA GOOSE BEING CHOKED] the simple melody to an increasingly dissonant series of variations in differing styles.

Lindsay also led the next composition by Astor Piazzolla, The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. A modern piece, meaning that the melody is incapable of being whistled, it featured a variety of unusual sounds, including clacking, scratching and plucking [LOUD BELCH HARDLY NOTICEABLE AMONG ALL THE CLACKING, SCRATCHING AND PLUCKING]. Seriously, this was a challenging piece and the orchestra was up to the task.

The first set finished with The Seasons, by Alexander Glazunov. With several beautiful melodies and motifs, the string sections [HISSING OF AN OXYGEN HOSE THAT SLIPPED OFF ITS NIPPLE] showed off their rich, sonorous tones and were complemented by a superb performance by the winds.

Free cough drops were handed out during intermission. Perhaps flu shots would be a welcomed addition in the lobby at next month’s concert.

With Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F Minor on tap for the second half, I was wondering if the orchestra would be up to it. It’s a huge piece, with the strings delivering blistering runs and sixteenth-note intervals, looking like fifty carpenters with fifty reciprocating saws running in unison.

I’m happy to report that [PHLEGM DISLODGING COUGH FOLLOWED BY STEREO DRY HACKS] the orchestra was more than up to the challenge; they absolutely kicked the door down, sounding better and playing together better than I’ve ever heard them. The audience was so impressed with the first movement that even seasoned concert goers applauded enthusiastically.

The pizzicato movement can easily turn into a train wreck, but it was executed with utmost timing and musicality. Most impressive. In case anyone was lulled into an alpha state, the percussion section put a stop to it in the allegro movement. The bass drum and cymbal crash had many people reaching for their volume controls.

Throughout the night, but especially in the Tchaikovsky piece, the wind sections were outstanding. The double reeds and clarinet were pristine [ANOTHER GOOSE HONK MIXED WITH THE GROAN OF A CATHETER BEING REMOVED], nary a cracked note emanated from the horns, the flute and piccolo were dead on, and the trumpets, bones and tuba were flawless.

The Symphony No. 4 finale brought the entire crowd to their feet and, although a few seniors raced (if you want to call it that) for the exits during the applause and well-deserved bows, most of us savored the new mark of excellence set by our Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra.

Congratulations! [WHEEZE]


  1. Excellent work (and a special thank you for not calling it a "Canadian" goose).

    I hope all these people were coughing and sneezing into their elbows, not their hands? No, I didn't think so. Sigh.

    Phlegmminess (?) aside, I'm hoping to take my daughter to the Cape Symphony soon. She loves classical music and I think it would really wow her to see an orchestra live. And now I know she'll be a lot less noisy than the rest of the crowd!

  2. Randy, nice review of the symphony and audience as well. It is not only the older crowds that are willing to share their sounds and germs during these performances in close quarters. This past Saturday I took my 5 year old granddaughter to her soccer practice,(yes, outdoors) Lorraine and I were babysitting over the long weekend. Sure enough some of her team mates and other teams players were coughing and sneezing on one another, and no I didn't see any children coughing, or sneezing into their bent arms. Finally, one parent was told she would have to take her child elsewhere, she complied without a fuss. Not sure why she brought her daughter there in the first place.

  3. Quite a facility at Barnstable huh? If we find ourselves at Barnstable High School, take a moment to visit the Cobb Astro Park inside the school. Thousand of man hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars to transform a dust bowl a thing of beauty. Every single hour of time and every single penny was donated. Simply awesome.


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