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CLASSICAL  November 2005

CLASSICAL November 2005

Subject:

Berkeley Symphony Shut Out in Kickoff Event

From:

Janos Gereben <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 2 Nov 2005 01:09:23 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (71 lines)

Berkeley has an anomalous Symphony.  What is essentially a pickup
orchestra can play surpassingly well, far better than its tiny budget
or short schedule would indicate.  Think of a winning sports team that
plays together just six times a year. It really cannot be done, but
Berkeley Symphony does it, often...  although not on Tuesday evening.

The opening of the orchestra's 36th season in Zellerbach Hall was
a shoddy affair, the performance ranging from cautious to ragged to
sputtering.  Inexplicably, those responsible for the Symphony's good
times were also present at this event: Kent Nagano, its internationally
famous music director, starting his 26th year on the podium, concertmaster
Stuart Canin, principal second violinist Katherine Kyme, principal violist
Kurt Rohde, and all the other worthies.  Perhaps BSO needs the equivalent
of spring training and/or pre-season games (concerts, that is).  In the
event, the orchestra took the field to open the season, and it scored
no points.

Robert Schumann's mighty "Manfred" Overture was tentative, with whole
sections falling apart, the brass croaking.  Accompaniment in the Mozart
Violin Concerto No. 4 lacked verve and spirit.  The major work, Schumann's
Symphony No. 3 ("Rhenish"), never reached a plateau of adequacy: the
first movement was incohesive, woodwinds all over the place, the tempo
dragged, strings sounded uncertain...  or worse.

The Scherzo and the third movement, marked "Nicht schnell" (not fast),
were just plain slow and cautious, never really sparkling.  The final
movement, supposedly "buoyant," came across as a dirge.  Nagano's loyalty
to a job he doesn't need is admirable, but if he has to take time away
from major conducting assignments in Europe only to produce THIS kind
of performance, returning to the podium as a kind of absentee landlord,
perhaps it's not the worth the trouble.

For entertainment (of sorts), there was John Chowning's "Stria," a
computer-generated piece, with computer-generated graphics, supposedly
the world's first such visualization (for those who failed to bliss out
on the color organs of the last century): a broad greeen line on the
screen showing a representation of what is being heard, with both past
and future visible - a kind of roadmap.  As the "music" turned out to
be 15 minutes and 41 seconds of painfully monochromic tedium, the listener
watching the display was soon tempted to shout: "Are we there yet?!"

To give Chowning his due, let him explain what "Stria" is all about:
"Its composing included the process of composing the sound itself, giving
an orderly structure to inharmonic sound spectra, making it possible to
compose with them in a manner analogous to composing harmony with harmonic
sound spectra...  A non-octave division of the frequency space is based
ona ratio that is also used to order the relationships betwen the
inharmonic spectral components." That's pretty much what the piece sounded
like.

A surprisingly machine-like performance came from the evening's soloist,
Caitlin Tully, 17 but looking younger, a virtuoso violinist, but not yet
a particularly good musician.  She played the Mozart with technical
excellence and certainty, except for a couple of instances of losing her
place.  Tully is much to be praised for defying today's virtuoso fashion
of tossing tresses and grimacing grotesquely - she certainly plays on
the straight and narrow.  Perhaps too much so, sounding mostly as
spiritless as her teacher, Itzhak Perlman, on one his (many) bad days.

Tully's playing was dry and operating on the surface, instead of saying
something and making the listener feel, rather than just being impressed.
The exception - raising hope for the future of this very young artist,
whose ambition (according to her bio) is to ride a unicycle - was the
first theme in the second movement (Andante cantabile), played with
sweetness and the SINGING that Mozart had asked for.  (Mozart, who was
born too early and too far from Berkeley to compose harmony with harmonic
sound spectra, albeit with inharmonic spectral components.)

Janos Gereben
www.sfcv.org
[log in to unmask]

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