ASO: Peter Oundjian with Robert McDuffie

The ASO, conducted by Peter Oundjian, didn’t dilly dally this evening and got straight to the concerto: Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto No. 2, “The American Four Seasons.” Notable about this performance is that Oundjian and the soloist, Robert McDuffie, premiered the piece in late 2009 with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, which had co-commissioned it. The only commercial recording of which I’m aware, with McDuffie soloing with the London Philharmonic under Marin Alsop, makes its way regularly into my CD rotation. Needless to say, I was pretty excited when I found out that it was not only programmed for this season, but that it would be Oundjian conducting it with McDuffie soloing.

There is a lot about this piece that makes it stand out among violin concerti but there are two idiosyncrasies that really stand out. First, each of the four movements is proceeded by a violin solo. Although there is certainly a lot of exciting work for the soloist in the main body of the work, these solos take the place of a traditional cadenza at the end of the first movement. Secondly, it is scored for a baroque-sized orchestra, with the soloist being accompanied by a reduced string section and a basso continuo performed on synthesizer.

Overall, Oundjian and McDuffie gave a solid, if not perfect, performance. I felt that they took the prelude solo and first movement a bit slow. I can see where that emphasizes the way that the tempo builds through the piece, but I also felt that it made it come out a bit dry. I also felt that the basso continuo was a bit too prominent in the first movement, but I’m not sure that I’d have felt that way if I were in my regular orchestra-level seats instead of the mezzan_ne. Although I was enjoying it, I didn’t really start to get pulled into the piece until the second solo interlude. They had a reasonably strong ending, but it didn’t hit me as hard because I didn’t feel like I was there for the whole journey. Still, as I said, I think that it was solid and a reasonably decent reading of the piece.

The other piece on the program for the evening was “Symphonie Fantastique” by the original third ‘B’ of classical music: Berlioz. Oundjian’s interpretation was good. He brought out the opium dream-inspired program from the music without making it overly dramatic. There were areas here and there where I think another composer might have brought out more beauty or a more engaging evocation of emotion, but Oundjian gave us a good ride. I thought that the dynamics were excellent for the call and response with the off-stage English horn played by principle oboist Elizabeth Koch Tiscione. Indeed, the fact that the ASO has a good woodwinds section was very apparent throughout the piece. I also thought that it was awesome to hear the grand sound of the Rehm memorial church bells, played by acting principal percussionist Charles Settle, during the final movement, “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath.”

Overall this was a satisfactory end to the season for me. The ASO does still have one more concert — one made up completely of the music of the more commonly accepted third ‘B,’ Brahms — but this was the last one for which I had tickets. This season had some really high moments but also more than its fair share of low ones for me. That said, I think that next season will be a far sight better: the orchestra is going into it with a much fuller compliment of full-time musicians and the selection of conductors looks a lot better. There are a lot of concerts that I’m looking forward to and I’ll be excited when the season starts back in the Fall.

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