Ex­pe­ri­ence the tran­si­tion from solo to the sym­phonic

Kingston Whig-Standard - - MOVIE LISTINGS - Evan Mitchell is the mu­si­cal di­rec­tor of the Kingston Sym­phony.

One of the great­est as­pects of time­less art is that it sits in this sweet spot be­tween aca­demic un­der­stand­ing and emo­tional res­o­nance. It’s not one or the other, it’s si­mul­ta­ne­ously both, not mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive. My favourite mu­si­cal works stand up to rig­or­ous dis­sec­tion while also pro­vok­ing deep, un­re­lent­ing feel­ings. The fact that won­der­ful mu­sic can be both at the same time means that we ex­pe­ri­ence the best of both sides of the coin, while un­de­ni­ably ac­knowl­edg­ing the value of the two per­spec­tives.

Be­ing a con­duc­tor, it’s hard for me to con­vey the aca­demic as­pect of things while I’m per­form­ing. And that’s fine! It’s im­por­tant to me to know why a piece is good, and I can use that in­for­ma­tion to high­light what I choose. It might be ab­stract, but the larger point is that my obli­ga­tion is to have a per­for­mance live up to the piece’s own in­nate qual­ity.

Now the down­side is that I can’t jump up and down about a par­tic­u­larly well-crafted har­monic se­quence in the mo­ment, nor can I make it ob­vi­ous when we have an ex­cit­ing sur­prise in the struc­ture. But I can put to­gether pieces on a pro­gram with an arc in mind, and hear­ing these pieces one af­ter an­other makes draw­ing par­al­lels (or con­trasts!) much eas­ier and more ef­fec­tively than any chart or lec­ture.

This week­end we ex­pe­ri­ence my favourite arc of the year: the tran­si­tion from solo to the sym­phonic. Michel Szczes­niak’s Chan­son Du Lac is a beau­ti­ful, lyri­cal fan­ta­sia for the vi­o­lin, pic­turesque and evoca­tive. It is a pure, unadul­ter­ated show­case for the vi­o­lin’s singing qual­ity. So we be­gin with the fo­cus on the solo, with a sub­or­di­nate orches­tra ac­com­pa­ny­ing the vi­o­lin’s great line, colour and melody.

We then move on to Beethoven’s mam­moth vi­o­lin con­certo, his one and only foray into the genre. Beethoven’s mind and heart were pro­foundly ro­man­tic and his epic work for vi­o­lin and orches­tra is just that: a part­ner­ship be­tween two forces, equally im­por­tant and sub­stan­tial. Beethoven made great gifts to mu­si­cal his­tory in all gen­res, but it’s not par­tic­u­larly hard to ar­gue that his great­est im­pact was with his sym­phonic oeu­vre. He seem­ingly couldn’t re­sist the large scale and the tow­er­ing pos­si­bil­ity of the orches­tra, and each of his nine sym­phonies had some­thing ground­break­ing within them that pro­pelled the medium for­ward. So it’s only nat­u­ral that his vi­o­lin con­certo pairs the his­toric tra­di­tion of the vir­tu­oso soloist with the majesty and grandeur of the ro­man­tic orches­tra. I’ve al­ways thought of this con­certo as the re­sult of the old rhetor­i­cal ques­tion about what hap­pens when an un­stop­pable force meets an im­mov­able ob­ject. In this case, it’s not ad­ver­sar­ial, it’s co-op­er­a­tive, and we all surely ben­e­fit from the union of the two.

Fi­nally, we delve into the purely sym­phonic realm, and there is no greater ex­am­ple to my mind than Schu­mann’s third sym­phony, the Rhen­ish. Schu­mann sym­phonies are very much ex­pe­ri­ences for the orches­tra as a whole. Nat­u­rally there are fea­tures for in­di­vid­ual in­stru­ments, but Schu­mann does some­thing quite sin­gu­lar with his sym­phonic writ­ing: he gen­er­ally writes for ev­ery­body, all the time. That’s a fea­ture, not a bug. It’s one of the rea­sons why he is hailed as an in­cred­i­ble or­ches­tra­tor (mag­nif­i­cent con­trasts and depth of colour from large si­mul­ta­ne­ous forces) and a ter­ri­ble or­ches­tra­tor (ev­ery­body play­ing all the time gets to be very tir­ing). It’s cer­tainly a chal­lenge for the orches­tra, but the re­sult is per­haps the purest dis­til­la­tion of what the sym­phony as an art form is all about. Cer­tainly the Rhen­ish is one of my favourite pieces for orches­tra, and I can think of no greater fi­nal course for this con­cert’s jour­ney.

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