Performing Arts Center, Aug. 3
you no knowledge of the story behind Rimsky-Korsakoff’s Scheherazade,
the music would remain compelling. Or so I hope. Good music
doesn’t require a program to be effective, but it benefits
from a social context.
of that is the concertgoing experience itself. We attend concerts,
rather than exclusively listen to recordings, because we share
the excitement of music being performed on the spot with an
audience of like-minded others. When it comes to a concert
program like the one played in Saratoga last Friday by the
Philadelphia Orchestra, that’s about it.
feature in radio or television events, beyond ads or PSAs.
What newspaper coverage it merits isn’t part of a conversation.
I’m pleased that you’re interested enough in my opinion of
the concert to read these three paragraphs, but I don’t expect
to hear from you.
music wasn’t always this rarefied. Bugs Bunny sang opera;
the Lone Ranger rode to William Tell. The slow-movement
theme from Brahms’ Double Concerto was used on Ford
Television Theater and The Secret Storm.
that slow movement, so lyrically sung by the violin-and-cello-playing
brothers Renaud and Gautier Capuçon, was one of the high points
of a concert so expertly rendered that the baseline itself
was already stratospheric.
not just that it’s a world-class orchestra led by Charles
Dutoit, a conductor they enjoy. It’s also the setting, as
much for them as it is for us, and the soloists, and the chance
to breathe new life into familiar repertory.
needs is an audience. So many of those brand-new seats yawned
empty around us that it felt as if we’d wandered into a rehearsal.
And that’s where the social context comes in.
point in time, pop culture isn’t going to court classical
music. Its last hurrah was a De Beers commercial and some
Stanley Kubrick films. People don’t gather around the water
cooler to discuss the latest Simon Rattle recording. Preconcert
talks are certainly welcome, and I enjoyed orchestra cellist
Richard Harlow’s introductory remarks, but what about a post-concert
get-together where we can compare our experiences?
of the problem is classical music’s education requirement.
Like the world of wine, it rewards you as you learn more about
it. We could discuss Prokofiev’s “Classical” symphony, but
you really ought to know about classical symphonic ingredients,
like the sonata-allegro form, to appreciate the composer’s
impishness (nicely articulated by Dutoit in the concert’s
opener as he kept the piece moving at a just-right pace).
enthusiastic group in the house was seated in the amphitheater’s
rear, audience right, a group of young people from the School
of Orchestral Studies, a summer program run by the New York
State School Music Association in association with the Philadelphia
Orchestra and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. It’s a
great gig for high-school-aged musicians, and the intermission
chatter I overheard was lively and insightful.
to see SPAC put more young people in those seats, but I think
that responsibility now lies with us. We need to create the
social context by letting others know how important this is
to us, and to create those gatherings at which concerts are
discussed and recordings are shared.
fortunate as a teen to be enough of a pariah to attract fellow
outcasts, and our gatherings included music as diverse as
Fritz Reiner’s landmark Scheherazade (against which
I’d place this Dutoit-led performance), Zappa’s Live at
the Fillmore and Benny Goodman’s Carnegie Hall concert.
intensity of the Heifetz-Piatigorsky version of the Brahms
double first endeared that work to me, and probably ruined
it, too, as I find most performances of it overly greased
with forced romanticism. The Capuçon brothers—who individually
played the hell out of two Tchaikovsky works last season—are
just as dynamic as a pair, and have a slew of chamber-music
recordings to prove that.
Brahms started with lyrical freedom, then swung into a driving,
majestic groove, against which the evenly-paced slow movement
contrasted nicely. The finale is like a train, steadily driving
its bouncy theme through a series of confrontations with the
can be bombastic and even silly, but tackle it with total
conviction and it packs a wallop. It offers a showcase for
solo violin, which concertmaster David Kim performed with
his usual admirable sweetness and dexterity.
it was the kind of a concert that brings the audience to its
feet, and compels you to talk about with others. That’s my
current search, and I hope you’ll join the discussion.