23 October 2010
Playing to a nearly full audience, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra opened its 82nd season on Friday evening with performances of two of the best-loved and best-known works in the classical repertoire: Mozart’s 21st Piano Concerto and Beethoven’s Symphony Number 3 (“Eroica”).
Music Director George Hanson was the piano soloist and conducted the Mozart from the keyboard. Hanson, for his part, delivered the playful Mozart solos masterfully albeit a bit too delicately given the Music Hall’s acoustics. Conducting from the keyboard, however, turned out to be a mistake. While the performance was adequate, at least enough to be enjoyable, the orchestra, despite having achieved some renown of late for its chamber-like interaction with soloists, was a bit ragged whenever Hanson turned to the keyboard, noticeably unsynchronized and never bringing out the responsorial give-and-take of the fast movements of the concerto. Between solos, with Hanson to lead them directly, they snapped back into shape. Young concertmaster Aaron Boyd’s flamboyant manner, somewhere between that of a soloist and a heavy-metal guitarist, was probably part of the problem: with all that body motion, it’s unlikely that he or his bow could anchor even the small, 30-musician ensemble present on stage.
The TSO’s performance of the Mozart concerto was neither so bad nor so good as to deserve the treatment given by an audience that was both overappreciative and startlingly rude. Much whispering took place and a corresponding amount of “shhh!’ was heard from several locations multiple times during the performance, followed, strangely enough, by standing applause and shouts of “Bravo!” at the end.
Following intermission, with Hanson back at the podium and the orchestra at its full 60-member strength (and the audience remembering its manners), the TSO delivered a commanding performance of Beethoven’s “Eroica” symphony. Even the difficult dashes of color in the final movement–a long contrapuntal passage carrying of the melody by the clarinet, and those exciting horn fanfares–were effected with brilliance.
The only complaint one could have is that, following a very entertaining pre-concert lecture by composer-in-residence Dan Coleman on the nuances of the first movement, it was played at a relatively hasty tempo. But given the (perhaps Napoleon-inspired) excitement expressed by Beethoven in that movement, the choice to play as though caught in a strong wind, while unconventional, was quite sensible, and not carried through to the second movement’s sobering funeral march.
Friday’s opening night performance demonstrated once again that, with their conductor at the podium, the TSO is a more-than-capable small orchestra. With superstar pianist Lang Lang coming in early January followed by Terrence Wilson in February, and performances of Higdon’s Blue Cathedral and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, among many others, on the calendar, an exciting season is ahead.