Tonight was the opening night of the 2009-10 Season for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and the first day of the last season for Jeffrey Kahane as Principal conductor. It was certainly a night for Maestro Kahane for so many reasons; hopefully I will touch on a few here.
The opening piece was a short 4 minutes by John Adams - Short Ride in a Fast Machine. Indicative of minimalist music, the piece is built on repetitive patterns. However, unlike other minimalists the repetitions are short and to the point. Kahane commanded the orchestra and their fast machine brilliantly. This short, highly rhythmic piece with its constant stream of entrances and shifting rhythmic patterns demands as much from a conductor as many considerably longer pieces. You would be hard pressed to find any music of the same length with the same intensity, and yet Kahane and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra were completely prepared for the task. What a brilliant way to start the season!
Ingrid Fliter on the piano joined the CSO for Schumann’s only Piano Concerto. This piece was premiered by Schumann’s wife Clara on New Years day in 1946 after urging her husband to write a lengthy piece for piano and orchestra. The love between Robert and Clara is legendary, and the music bears a fair testament to this. The melodies are lovely and expressive, the piano part is at time insanely challenging and yet delightfully sympathetic. This is one of the great romantic piano concertos, and Ms Fliter was perfectly suited for the task.
In the opening movement Ms Fliter’s touch of the keys was impossibly soft, yet the music wafted through the hall. She was wonderfully expressive, willing the piano to each and every shift in her mood. Schumann wrote a series of falling runs which were superbly played creating not a series of notes, but a sense of cascading music. The Oboe mirrored the piano at times with faultless synchronization. This movement is not just soft and tender, for there are sections where Ms Fliter gets to bang on the keys as well. Just before her solo section the music demands some powerful finger work, not a Rachmaninoff hammering but intricate patterns woven together with the orchestra in a blistering fury. Then the cadenza and more stunning finger work. It is not enough that she played every note, but amid the frenzy she added nuance to the music. There were times she maintained such a delicate and frenetic touch on the keys I have difficulty believing there was time to actually strike each key. Ms Fliter performed Schumann’s Piano Concerto so mentally and emotionally connected to the piano her fingers no longer needed to do anything – hers was a kinetic performance, releasing her energy through the piece as naturally as an apple falls from the tree.
Jeffery Kahane did a wonderful job pulling out the subtleties of the orchestra. Never was the orchestra too loud or too soft. In the second movement he created waves of notes, crests breaking just at the right time to splash over the piano. The interplay between soloist and orchestra was absolutely breathtaking.
As the Piano Concerto came to an end, there was no hesitation in the audience - there was a loud and continuous standing ovation for both orchestra and Ms Fliter. She was obviously thrilled with her performance as she too was quick to congratulate Maestro Kahane and the orchestra. Her ebullience was matched by the audiences’ appreciation – both ecstatic for a dazzling concert. The audience was so enthused she performed an encore of Chopin’s Waltz No. 19 in A minor, perhaps a taster of her upcoming album.
The second half of the concert continued to soar with Respighi’s Brazilian Impressions and The Pines of Rome. As I mentioned earlier this was Kahane’s night and the second half was filled with brilliant moments by the orchestra and conductor. The opening movement of the Brazilian Impressions is hauntingly delicate with light snatches of Latin rhythm. Again, Kahane waded through the subtle tides of crescendos, sweeping them through the orchestra in a sonic wonderland. The music is so evocative of Brazil - yet with no real sense of melody or in many aspects rhythm, at least not the pounding samba one might expect from Rio de Janeiro. Respighi wrote of the atmosphere, not the music itself. This was a recreation of the sense of being there and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra captured that essence entirely. One particular moment was when Bill Jackson on the clarinet played so delicately as if the music was coming from a distant dream, a memory of Brazil. Another was when Chad Cognata and Tristan Rennie on Bassoon along with Andrew Steven on Bass Clarinet had their moment to shine in the dark, texturally intricate second moment. The final movement was the most rhythmic and perhaps this was Kahane’s chance to shine, dancing through the Latin rhythms, bringing element after element to play as if he was floating from partner to partner and yet dancing with the entire orchestra as well. Maestro Kahane's obvious love for this piece shone through right to the delightful flourish he added at the end.
Shifting tenor but not composer, the concert moved to The Pines of Rome. Justin Bartels on trumpet gave an excellent performance, as did the woodwind section and the strings, creating a sense of children playing. As the first movement ended the concert hall felt like a huge playground. Then came a dark cello melody of the second movement. Again, Bartels wafted over the orchestra as if miles away. Kahane’s control of the orchestra, particularly in the lower dynamic ranges was amazing. Each and every element was brought out to be heard, all the while keeping everything at a mere whisper. Until, eventually the bold strings and brass bring the movement to a close. The third movement starts with a piano solo over invisible strings. The clarinet takes the melody and then it shifts to oboe and harp. Amid the various breaks in the theme Kahane brought the orchestra from hiding with subtle shifts in tonal color only to slip them back away for the soloists to reappear. Before the second half of the concert, Jeffery Kahane welcomed the new principal cellist, Silver Ainomae. There were several moments during tonight's performance where he had a chance to excel. In the third movement of The Pines of Rome, Ainomae’s solo was short but luminously played. The final movement came with the double basses creating a sense of ancient soldiers marching down the road. Slowly the piece built in an amazing crescendo. Jeffery Kahane was pulling out all the stops and still asking for more. And he Got It!!!
If this is any sign of what’s to come this season, Colorado Symphony Orchestra is destined for a World Series pennant. Their performance tonight was on par with any of the world class orchestras performing at Vail this summer. Jeffery Kahane has truly brought the CSO into the realm of first rate orchestras. If there was any disappointment tonight, it was the empty seats in Boettcher Hall. This orchestra richly deserves a larger audience. Maestro Kahane, Ingrid Fliter and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra do it all again Saturday, September 12th. Forget what plans you may have. Go hear this concert!