Posted by: David Stewart | May 22, 2011

A night of surprises from the Oregon Symphony

The Oregon Symphony has had a banner spring. They had their Carnegie Hall debut, and those who have attended concerts at the Schnitzer Concert Hall have seen a big "Countdown to Carnegie" sign in the lobby. By all accounts, that concert was very well received.

This weekend’s concerts are the last ones of the season, and last night’s was full of surprises. Rather than bring in a big name soloist to play with the orchestra as in most concerts, they featured various leaders from the Symphony to be featured.  This can sometimes be the least interesting concert of the season, but the first half at least was amazing.

The first surprise was a totally empty stage when the concert started. Usually, the entire orchestra is seated before the concert begins (or at least as many as are playing in the first piece of the evening) noodling around on their instruments or chatting. An empty stage was a complete shock.

Then the lights came down and Elaine Calder, the president of the Oregon Symphony, came out to give her usual thanks to underwriters and a warning to silence cell phones. Calder has done a good job being visible at concerts; she is definitely the best known orchestra head I can think of in the 25 years that we have been subscribers. (And that’s not just because she called us out by name at a concert).

After her announcement, the entire orchestra streamed onto stage and played a rousing overture, a piece which was not on the program.

The other surprise of the evening was in the orchestra’s dress; rather than the usual formal "white tie," somber black and white, there was another shock to the system awaiting us.

These were all terrific fun for people who regularly hear this orchestra (or any orchestra) in concert. I suppose if you do not usually come to a classical symphony concert, you might wonder at what is the big deal.

In the first half of the concert was a variety of very accessible short pieces, with various of the principals of the orchestra in solo roles. Some highlights for me:

  • A Camille Saint-Saëns tarantelle for flute and clarinet. Deb held an eco-party hosted by flute principal Alicia DiDonato Paulson and it was fun seeing her featured. She plays like Nadja Solerno-Sonnenberg, rocking with the music.
  • A tango featuring Ja’Ttik Clark, the orchestra’s fine tuba player. It is wonderful to see his musicianship displayed in such an engaging piece.
  • A Ravel work of faux-Hungarian music with Jun Iwasaki, the Concert Master. The opening passages are in quite a low range for the violin, and seemed almost guttural in Iwasaki’s playing. But as the piece developed, you could see his incredible virtuosity.

After the intermission, the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra was intended to show off whole sections of the orchestra. As nice as the performance was, and as accessible as this piece is, I am honestly not a huge fan of Bartok, so I didn’t really appreciate it as much.

If you are able to go to one of the next two concerts (Sunday and Monday), I urge you to go, at least for the first half and stay past intermission if you might like the Bartok.


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