Monday, September 30, 2013

What happened at the Charlotte Symphony concert?

After the first movement of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra's rendition of "The Planets" Friday night, my wife leaned over and said, "I have never heard 'Mars' played like that." Neither had I. An orchestra I've frequently enjoyed had rocked me in a new way, and it continued to do so up to the mysterious end of Gustav Holst's symphonic suite. I felt like I was watching an ever-reliable baseball pitcher throw a perfect game. Had a recording of this performance been available, I'd have dropped $20 for it on the spot.

I've since heard from three people that the CSO accomplished the same feat Saturday night with its second performance of the piece. So, to quote one of them, what was going on?

Maybe the sheer size of the orchestra, which used larger forces than it did in the KnightSounds "Planets" three years ago, made the difference. Maybe conductor Christopher-Warren Green communicated his love for the piece (and/or British music in general) more deeply this time.

Maybe, to continue the athletic metaphor, the players upped their game for a new coach. (This happens all the time in sports: Teams suddenly play better under new management.) Robert Stickler, recently appointed as the permanent executive director, started the concert by announcing that ticket sales were up for every CSO series this year.

Maybe sentiment made a difference: The concert was dedicated to bassist Ivan Zugelj, who died of pneumonia this month after 39 seasons with the CSO and was acknowledged with a wreath laid on a chair at the edge of the stage. Maybe the nearly full house provided a boost: Most performers give their best when faced with an appreciative, alert crowd. Maybe the fact that WDAV-FM was broadcasting live (as it has done for opening concerts over the last five years) gave players added incentive.

For whatever reasons, the musicians made magic. Pianist Artur Schnabel liked to say he was attracted to music better than it could ever be played, music that could be explored infinitely without revealing every aspect of it. "The Planets" belongs in that category, I think. But Friday night, the Charlotte Symphony came as close as anyone I've ever heard to sounding its depths.  


kitkat said...

I was there Friday night - amazing performance! 'Mars', 'Jupiter', and 'Neptune' were particularly enjoyable. Bravo, CSO - exciting start to the season!

Mark Caplan said...

WDAV broadcasted and streamed Friday's concert live, so there undoubtedly are bootleg copies around. Some audience members gave the solar system short shrift by applauding three planets too soon. Holst's most impressive insight was his intuiting the demotion of Pluto to mere asteroid status.

Karen Travels said...

Will WDAV rebroadcast? I would love to hear it!