ASO: Donald Runnicles with James Ehnes

Last night’s Atlanta Symphony Orchestra concert wasn’t for me. It featured two pieces that I wasn’t that interested in hearing. The first was Shostakovich’s 15th Symphony, which received a lengthy, though interesting, introduction by Principal Guest Conductor Donald Runnicles. I really appreciate the effort he goes through to help audiences engage with the works he’s playing. It didn’t help me with this symphony, though. I’ve always felt that it was a a bit of an incomplete patchwork of a piece full of quotations that sound like they want to tell a story but don’t quite know what to say. I also think that the orchestration could be a bit more interesting in one direction or another. Last night’s performance made me feel like more attention was paid to certain parts than others, though I’m not entirely sure if it would be the fault of the composition or the performance. One bright spot were the soloists: most of them were excellent and truly a joy to hear.

The other piece on the program was this year’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s highly over-performed violin concerto. I’m tired of this piece but this particular performance with soloist James Ehnes was in a style that I don’t enjoy. When I first heard the piece many moons ago, I remember thinking that it would be really good if someone would deconcertoize it: I liked the parts for orchestra but not so much the whiz-bang violin part. Eventually I heard some amazing violinists bring some life to the solo part so that it had a bit more musicality and feeling to it to go along with the speed and showiness. I don’t know enough about music to explain what the musicians are doing when they do this, but it seemed that there had a been a shift in the way the piece was interpreted and most performers performed it in a way that I found pleasing. This particular performance was more akin to those ones that I heard years ago that I didn’t enjoy: very fast and incredibly impressive for the technique but too dry in comparison with the orchestra part. It’s not bad – Ehnes’ playing was genuinely impressive – but it’s just not for me. To top it off, I felt that Runnicles focused more on giving the piece the speed that made Ehnes playing so impressive than giving the piece some feeling.

Leave a Reply