the agony and the ecstasy

I really love Jeffrey Kahane, and I will certainly miss him when he’s gone. It’s so enjoyable to watch him while he’s conducting. Enthusiasm and passion flows from him into the Orchestra. The musicians respond with an equal measure of enthusiasm and awe, as the audience revels in this passionate back-and-forth communication. My favorite “Kahane moment” happened last season, when he conducted Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 in G major. His conducting had been particularly expressive, with some wonderful examples coming in the Largo and then, in the Finale, he actually stepped off the podium and just turned the Orchestra loose. He looked out at the audience, wearing an expression that seemed to say “deal with it.” It was definitely a “drop the mic” moment, and it endeared him to me forever. Don’t go, Jeff! Sigh.

On Sunday, the last piece played was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92. I think Richard Wagner’s poetic account says it best: “All tumult, all yearning and storming of the heart, become here the blissful insolence of joy, which carries us away with bacchanalian power through the roomy space of nature, through all the streams and seas of life, shouting in glad self-consciousness as we sound throughout the universe the daring strains of this human sphere-dance. The Symphony is the Apotheosis of the Dance itself: it is Dance in its highest aspect, the loftiest deed of bodily motion, incorporated into an ideal mold of tone.”

Right? Aside from all the fabulous tumult and yearning, there was a great teaching moment from Kahane and another charming personal reveal. He illuminated for us that Beethoven’s 7th was influenced by Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, and that there is a direct connection between the meter of that poem and the familiar rhythm of the slow movement. He also told us that he had learned to read Greek (for goodness’ sake, come on) in order to really understand all of this, and then gave us a brief lesson on the dactylic hexameter of Homer. These little moments always add great texture and context to the performance.

The evening began with Bach’s Cantata No.51, which was written for services at his Lutheran Church. It includes a very complex and technical solo for a soprano, magnificently sung by Joelle Harvey, and a solo trumpet, played by the exceedingly able David Washburn. I have no critique of the virtuosity of any of these fine performers, but I did not resonate with this piece. It is very complex and each layer creates something of an idiosyncratic fantasia. It’s just too much for my taste, like an exhilarating hot mess. Very well done, but Bach could have done more with less, in my newbie opinion.

Mozart’s “Alleluja” was more to my taste – if you read my blogs from last season, you all know I love me some Mozart. While this piece also required a wide range and great technical excellence from the Harvey, I felt that the less elaborate orchestration allowed me to appreciate her talents more easily. I didn’t feel as overwhelmed by it. It was a sweeter and more joyful experience overall.

UCLA is lucky to have Movses Pogossian on their faculty. He is a beautiful violinist, seemingly made for Tigran Mansurian’s Violin Concerto No. 2. The work, titled ”Four Serious Songs”, is dark, introspective and deeply meditative. Pogossian seemed on the precipice of something deathly, the Orchestra calling out to him to leap. His violin keens, at once halting and searching, then climaxing in a passionate minute-long soliloquy. The catharsis was stunning. The Concerto’s final moments elevate us to a higher plane, tranquil and hopeful, having passed through the shadows and out again into the light.

What a marvelous way to start the season.