ASO: Christian Arming with Contrad Tao and Stuart Stephenson

Last night was a decent night at Symphony Hall. It began with Janáček’s rhapsody Taras Bulba. A dramantic and often exciting and beautiful work, Christian Arming did a decent job with it. Nothing stood out in his conducting of it that doesn’t jump out of the score anyway. I have to admit that my mind wandered a bit, which is probably more my fault than Arming’s: I’d been a little out of it all day.

Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto no. 1 was next, with Conrad Tao soloing on piano along with ASO Principle Trumpet Stuart Stephenson on the solo trumpet. I really like the work: it’s almost cinematic and really seems to have a more explicit program than what Shostakovich ever owned up to. The solo piano parts are rapid and exciting and the solo trumpet gives it a sort of balance. Tao gave the impression that he was excited to be playing there and his performance was very natural and even somewhat joyous. Stephenson handled the trumpet part very well. Arming maintained a good balance between the soloists and the orchestra. Of note was that this was probably the first time that I’ve seen a soloist in skinny jeans. On the subject of fashion, Tao’s jacket was pretty boss: it was a single-breasted blazer with a mandarin collar and faux lapels, both lined in either leather or satin.

The jacket came off when Tao played Carter’s Caténaires as an encore. This was a fast, fluid, and electric piece that allowed Tao to really show off his technique. Tao is also a composer, so I was kind of hoping that we’d have the opportunity to hear one of his original works, though this was definitely an excellent piece for an encore.

The evening concluded with Dvorák’s Symphony no. 7. It was a good sounding performance but Arming didn’t bring much out of the work that grabbed onto me. I wasn’t sure with the Janáček, but hearing the Dvorák made me realize that Arming has a good ear for what will sound good and has the technique to bring it out of the orchestra but he doesn’t seem to plumb the emotional depths of a work. I’m not saying he’s bad at all, but I can’t imagine him playing something that brings me to tears.

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