Sunday, October 13, 2013

Tangential Perspectives

Daughter of MMmusing is a new member of Ben Zander's Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, which had a stunning series of debut concerts last year - alas, before she joined. I've only just learned that this video is available of their Mahler 2 (!) performances last year at the Concertgebouw (!) in Amsterdam. I haven't watched or listened to all of it (I'm still coming down from a glorious Boston Symphony Orchestra performance of the same work under Christoph von Dohn├ínyi a couple of weeks ago), but it is mind-blowing stuff coming from a youth orchestra - or any orchestra. (You can read much more about the Netherlands tour here.)


So, for now I'll just say that Boston-area readers should not miss this group's season opener on November 15 at Symphony Hall - a program to be repeated on December 9 at Carnegie Hall. (I now have the real answer to the old question about how to get to Carnegie Hall: Make your child practice, practice, practice!)

The hefty program will feature the monumental and ever-popular Shostakovich Symphony No. 5 as well as: the Ravel Piano Concerto in G (my "fantasy" concerto, i.e. the piece I wish some orchestra would ask me to play) with the ever-popular Christopher O'Riley at the keys; music from Michael Gandolfi's The Garden of Cosmic Speculation; and the overture to Verdi's La forza del destino. I'll admit that I was least excited about the Verdi - but then I wandered in to the final half-hour of the group's first rehearsal a few weeks back and was immediately drawn in by fragments of music I couldn't immediately identify. I finally realized it was the Verdi (which I played in a much lesser orchestra many years ago), and I was reminded of how powerful and direct Verdi's voice can be. And the music already sounded highly charged and compelling a few hours into the first rehearsal, although I don't know how many opera pits could accomodate an orchestra with 43 violins.

The rehearsals are held in a fairly unique spot, an auditorium at Boston's little-known Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology. This room happens to have been designed as a 1/3 size replica of Symphony Hall, though it only has one balcony, and the miniature stage, of course, can't hold a huge orchestra, so the orchestra rehearses on the floor. The space is so lively that they've had to do some acoustical work to make it useable, but it has become a favorite place for me to hang out while amazing music is coming together. There aren't a lot of orchestras playing at this level which can rehearse at such a leisurely pace, so one gets to hear the same fragments turned and re-shaped multiple times. (I would've recognized that bit of Verdi the first time except that Zander was rehearsing winds alone, so the familiar, surging string undercurrent wasn't present yet.)


Yesterday, as I was walking up to the building exterior, I looked towards Copley Square (about 5 blocks away) and noticed a view of Boston's tallest building, the John Hancock Tower, that I had never encountered before. The Hancock is a fabulous building, of course, and its mirrored exterior makes it look distinctively different from just about any vantage point, including the way it famously contrasts with its Romanesque neighbor, Trinity Church. 


But that wasn't the new view. From the steps of the Benjamin Franklin Institute, one sees only a narrow side of the trapezoidal tower, so it looks like an odd, two-dimensional plane jutting up from the earth:


If you're curious, that picture was taken from the lower right (purple marker) of the map below, in which the Hancock (and its shadow) can be see in the upper left at letter A:


So there you have it. Not only did making my daughter practice afford me an opportunity to get to Carnegie Hall - it helped me see something new and beautiful about a familiar structure I already loved. I won't be surprised if the same happens with Shostakovich...

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