Concert Prep

Concert Prep: Binghamton Philharmonic Classics – Nostalgia

Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra
Jose Luis Novo, Music Director
3PM January 26th, Binghamton University

Astor Piazzolla – Tangazo
Max Bruch – Scottish Fantasy Op.46; Sabrina Vivian, Violin
Antonin Dvorak – Symphony No.7 in D-minor Op.70

Piazzolla’s Tangazo opens this colorful concert with an extended, dour cello/bass section solo. The melody winds and wends its way, seeming to search for support (which it finds as the rest of the orchestra joins in bit by bit). This work has lots of variety of sound production in it – extended slides in the strings from one not to the next (called glissandi), and percussive plucking effects and and high hits with the bow. You don’t see a ton of this stuff in other music, but it’s one of Piazzolla’s signatures. See how many unusual playing techniques and strange sounds you can spot in this work! My favorite part is in the last five minutes or so of the work, where the instrumental sections work as pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, each filling in one part of a greater rhythmic whole (it happens again in the last thirty seconds or so).

Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, as the name would suggest, is full of the flavor of Scotland, with great folk melodies defining each movement. You’ll also hear the strings imitating bagpipes in the second movement a few times, and a nice big harp part in the final movement. This is the rare soloist showpiece that also succeeds as a superior musical statement as well.

I’ve never realized until this weekend what an important figure Dvorak is to the symphonic movement. It has all to do with that fickle third movement. While the other three movements remain virtually unchanged – Haydn himself would probably recognize the sonata form first movement, the lyrical slow movement, and a nice rousing finale that have all been mainstays since he standardized the symphonic form – the third movement has undergone many transformations. A minuet in the hands of Haydn and Mozart got kicked up a notch by Beethoven into the scherzo, which was then mysteriously transformed into Brahms’ curious quasi lullaby-scherzo in his symphonies. From there we get to Mahler’s wrecking ball scherzos. How do we get there? Dvorak’s own answer to the third movement – the Furiant. Featuring great rhythmic deception and two counting systems going on at once, Dvorak transformed Beethoven’s great scherzos into the raging, impactful works of art that serve as a bridge to Mahler. Look for a future post further exploring this subject in the next two weeks.

Notes and Observations from Rehearsals…

  • This was my first classics concert as the first violist for this group. While I played with the section last year as a substitute musician, and know them all fairly well, it was still a bit of a relief to see that my new section appears to be having fun, and likes me.
  • This time of year is a tough time for all instrumentalists – the extreme cold and dryness makes everyone have to wrestle their instruments into submission. Mine is no exception to this; At the break for the second rehearsal, my bow hair popped out of the stick! Going down to my case, I spotted a violinist unpacking her instrument a few feet from mine. She saw my bow and her eyes widened and she said “oh no!” She immediately offered to lend me her backup bow. We got to talking, and I discovered that she was none other than Sabrina Vivian, the soloist for tomorrow’s concert! I came in for rehearsal today, and thankfully one of the other violists had a high quality back up bow that she lent to me, but for the second half of yesterday’s rehearsal, I played on the backup bow of the soloist! When she made her offer, she made a point of talking about what a great bow it was, and how she enjoyed playing on it. I declined to remind her that the last bow that was in my hands self-destructed…
  • When I thanked her after the rehearsal and handed it back to her, the German said “well of course, you’re the solo violist, you need a good bow to play on!” One superficial difference between American and European orchestras – American orchestras refer to their first chair players as principals. Europeans refer to their first chair players as solo players, because they play anything in the part marked as a solo.
  • When you rehearse a piece of music for a week or so, you really get to know it. You come to anticipate certain little turns of phrases, or color changes. That’s when you know that a good concert is in the works – when you break a work of music down into the little successes that all start adding up!

One thought on “Concert Prep: Binghamton Philharmonic Classics – Nostalgia

  1. Wonderful, Dana. Thank you so much for writing these pieces. I’ve not commented previously, but I find your writing delightful and useful. Plus, nice story about the lent bow. (Though sorry yours broke. Yikes!) –Lee

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