Sunday, November 8, 2009

Masterworks Concert

Sir Andrew Davis was guest conductor and Andre Laplante was guest pianist for an evening at the symphony that presented Richard Strauss' Also Spracht Zarathustra, Beethoven's The Emperor (Piano Concerto #5) and Berlioz' Les francs-juges.

Laplante has a reputation as one of Canada's greatest pianists. As I heard him play the notes of the cadenzas in the second movement of The Emperor, I had the sudden insight that the real 'instruments' on stage were the musicians.

Hearing the opening bars of Also Spracht Zarathustra was a real rush. The orchestra was in perfect sync. I could almost see the sun rise. It was entertaining to watch the percussion section at work; the deep pounding of the kettle drums and the playful tickle of the triangle.

Our seats were in the right orchestra, with a great view of the conductor and an almost behind-the scenes view of the string section. We were so close Rob could hear Laplante humming along to the score. Unfortunately the nuance was lost on me because I have very poor hearing - but I did watch Laplante's face contort in time with the music.

It still fills me with wonder that Beethoven could have composed so many masterpieces when he was nearly deaf. He never played The Emperor publicly. In this period, musical improvisation by piano virtuosos meant that composers would make a notation to 'play a cadenza here'. In this piece, Beethoven wrote the notes for each, painstakingly. His instructions in the written score are quite the opposite of the time, because at one point he notes 'do NOT play a cadenza here.' How frustrating it must have been for him to not be able to play this masterpiece for an audience, and to not hear whether the visiting virtuosos followed his instructions.

Here is Glen Gould playing the second movement:

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