Every conductor has their own style of leading an orchestra, some way to translate their passion for the music through the orchestra and to the audience. For Miguel Harth-Bedoya his expression is full body; every aspect of his passion comes streaming out in full body movement. It is more than just dancing on the podium. Harth-Bedoya embodies Classical music. During our conversation earlier this week he spoke of the need for the conductor to connect with both the music (the composer) and the orchestra. By becoming the music the connection between composer and conductor is so obvious, everyone in the audience of Colorado Symphony Orchestra’s concert last night could follow his lead.
Friday’s concert consisted of three pieces, the first of which was a personal commission of Miguel Harth-Bedoya from young Peruvian composer Jimmy López - a four movement, ten minute piece entitled Fiesta!, Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto with Augustin Hadelich on the violin and Beethoven’s mighty “Eroica” Symphony No. 3.
The opening piece, Fiesta! is filled with the energy of Latin Rhythms. While Fiesta! is a modern piece based on dance rhythms intimately familiar to Peruvians, Señor López did well to classically compose music based on the rhythms but creating something entirely new. Harth-Bedoya was intensely active from the outset with numerous entrances and translating a sense of the Latin influence through his conducting into the orchestra. The music is filled with a flood of ideas and abundant dynamic inflections. At one point the orchestra is at a whisper and the next bouncing off the rafters. The percussionists also had a chance to shine with an extended conga solo in the opening of the 2nd movement. Later the orchestra needed to accurately capture the subtle hesitation so indicative of Latin music; with a slight hitch in his movement Harth-Bedoya made the hesitations perfect, followed brilliantly with snappy accents – idiomatically Latin. There is a vast array of layers and dimension to the music, each one beautifully articulated through the movement of Harth-Bedoya at the podium. I very much enjoy listening to the recording of Fiesta! by the Fort Worth Symphony on their INTI CD, but I think Friday’s performance was more enjoyable. There is something about getting to see Harth-Bedoya bring the music to life that is impossible to translate on a CD.
The next piece featured an amazing violinist from Italy/Germany, Augustin Hadelich. Considered a rising star amid the latest generation of virtuoso violinists, it is easy to see why he has captured so much attention from the media; his playing was subtly superb. Although Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto is still considered on of his earlier concerto works before he really established him own definitive style, there is plenty of virtuosic moments and great classical music. When the music moved from orchestral to solo, Hadelich brought his deft touch to the rapid passages so they seemed to just flow from the violin as if the music were water he could pour out on the stage. His 1683 ex-Gingold Stradivari violin has a lovely melodic tone that wafts over the audience and yet is responsive enough to capture every note in the blisteringly fast sections (of which there were many). Even when he wasn’t playing Augustin Hadelich moved with the music. Much like Chris Thile during his Mandolin Concerto performed a couple weeks ago with the Colorado Symphony, Hadelich was involved with the sound produced by the entire orchestra and not just his element. This accentuated what Harth-Bedoya accomplished on the podium. Typically there is not much for a conductor to do in a classical concerto, but Harth-Bedoya was constantly maintaining the connection between the music, the orchestra and the soloist. The connection between these two performers, the orchestra and the music was never in doubt throughout the piece.
There were several moments during Hadelich’s performance that were particularly stunning. In the opening movement the cadenza was both virtuosic and period appropriate. It captured the sense of the music and yet allowed Hadelich to show off some of his technical prowess. During a Master Class he gave out at Denver University on Thursday, Hadelich spoke of the technique of only lighting touching the second string during a double stop, enough to ensure it continues to ring, but not so much for it to dominate the melodic line. In the Mozart he had an extended section where just this technique came to bear and he did it beautifully. Both the melodic note and the harmony were present, but at no point did the harmony overpower the melody – quite the opposite; it became only a light accent to the melodic line. In the final movement there were several rapid passages that seemed as if the stream of notes couldn’t possibly be accomplished by one player – and yet we were watching it happen!
The audience rewarded Hadelich with a standing ovation and he returned the favor by performing an encore of Paganini’s Caprice No. 12. In this piece it was almost as if Hadelich was sneaking up on the violin to get the bow to actually make the notes happen, the bow barely touching the strings as if Hadelich was caressing the music from the violin rather than just getting the music out. Then there were rapid passages and runs which seem impossibly fast when played on a piano with 10 fingers and Hadelich accomplished them with just four on the fingerboard.
The second half of the Friday night concert by the Colorado Symphony Orchestra was the amazing “Eroica” Symphony by Beethoven. This piece is truly the turning point of music from classical to romantic. There had never been a symphony so long, so robust or so romantic in its ideals before this one. All symphonies (not just Beethoven’s) would be changed forever by what Beethoven accomplished with this piece. The opening movement, one of the most famous symphonic melodies is built on an E major triad. While that may not mean much to a non-musician, suffice it to say this is pretty basic stuff. And yet, harmonically the piece moves all over the place – what would eventually become common practice for symphonies all started with this one. There are also numerous sections of off beats which are normally played no different than on beat notes. Harth-Bedoya was not content with what was normally done; he accentuated the notes so the offbeats were different. The subtle shifts in music that happen throughout the first movement were accomplished with a rare sense of fluidity. Often conductors telegraph their movements so broadly the audience anticipates the music too much. Here Harth-Bedoya gets the orchestra to respond without giving away too much to the audience before it’s time.
At the outset of the concert Harth-Bedoya spoke of how unusual it was to have Funeral March as a movement in a symphony. He made such a point of it that I perhaps expected too much. The music was there, the dynamics were right, all the entrances were on time – and yet somehow the movement lacked a sense of intensity.
The third movement recaptured the moment. It begins light and airy, and Harth-Bedoya captures the emotions. When the horns get their heroic moment Harth-Bedoya spreads his arms as if to invite the whole orchestra to be heroic – and they follow suit. He also manages to maintain the tension even in the softest sections of the music. The final movement suffered some of the same problems as the second movement, a sense of passion. The moments were few, but still present. In the end the piece didn’t close the concert with quite the thunderous applause it should have. Again, Harth-Bedoya’s motions were there, the musicians of the orchestra played all the right notes in all the right places, but it didn’t sparkle. The audience did give a standing ovation and even applauded long enough to bring the conductor back out a second time. He should have been able to get three (or even four) curtain calls and perhaps would have if the program would have ended with the first movement.
It was still a strong concert. Augustin Hadelich is amazing on the violin, bringing out subtle nuances to the music. Miguel Harth-Bedoya is a rising star among conductors, and his flare on the podium is as thrilling to watch as the wonderful music he creates is to listen to. Colorado Symphony Orchestra responded well to everything Harth-Bedoya asked of them and often times caught subtle shades of the music or tiny intricacies of the rhythm most orchestras would simply ignore – it is these moments that really make a concert worth attending.
There was still room for more audience members at Boettcher Hall, but several people around me spoke of how limited the seating was getting for future concerts. So, don’t miss the opportunity to see this world class orchestra with world class performers. The same concert with Miguel Harth-Bedoya as guest conductor and Augustin Hadelich performing Mozart’s fifth Violin Concerto plays again on Saturday night (Oct 3rd) and Sunday afternoon (Oct 4th).