ASO: Robert Spano and Louis Lortie

While Robert Spano was conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in Christopher Theofanidis’ Symphony no. 1, I found myself thinking about something one of my college philosophy professors said about Immanuel Kant. She said something along the lines that he would put thoughts and ideas in a box until it was filled and then write a book out of what was in it. I have no idea as to the veracity of this story, but I kind of got the feeling that this was how Theofanidis composed his symphony because it seemed like a bunch of unconnected aesthetic ideas mashed together into an oddly and impressively coherent whole.

That’s not to say I liked it, though: I found it too conceptually scattered to get into and downright boring as a whole. If I’m completely honest, I don’t think that I like Theofanidis’ works at all. I’ve already written my thoughts on Creation/Creator and Dreamtime Ancestors, both of which seem to also be lacking an aesthetic core. I kind of like Rainbow Body, but even that doesn’t really grip my attention that well. His first symphony has bits and pieces that I find pleasing, but if you were to take them out and play them without the rest then it would be a short and incoherent mess. I think that if I had to broadly describe the piece, it would be that it sounds like a suite from the soundtrack to Detective Superman and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull…incidental music to three or four different action films, none of which have anything to do with each other. I do have to give him credit for making each movement of the symphony sound coherent even with this conceptual scattering; that suggests a real talent. I think that such a talent would, perhaps, be better applied to composing actual incidental music than concert works, though.

I thought that the performance was good, though: Spano seemed to give it a well considered interpretation and the orchestra played well. At the end of the performance, Spano held up the score and shook it triumphantly. I can only recall seeing him do this one other time, and I think it was a Beethoven piece that had just been played objectively poorly; the audience was giving a very enthusiastic response and I got the sense that the maestro was, in his way, crediting the score and not the performance for the response. I doubt that he intended his display of the score to suggest that it was the score’s fault that the audience responded so poorly to this performance of Theofanidis’ work, but it really is what should be blamed. My ticket listed a different composer who was to have his fourth symphony premiered this weekend, but it seems that he wasn’t able to deliver and Theofanidis was substituted. Theofanidis is the only member of the Atlanta School of Composers whose work I generally don’t like and I really wish that any of the others were selected to fill this spot.

I’m also not terribly fond of Louis Lortie’s playing. He was the soloist for Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto no. 1 and I found his playing a but forceful and lacking in sensitivity. It seemed kind of like a purposeful interpretation moreso than a lack of skill, though, so if someone wants to tell me that he’s very good then I’m happy to concede that it may just be my personal tastes that make me not like his playing. Even if I didn’t think he was the best soloist for the job, the piece came out very well under Spano’s baton and I credit him and the orchestra for giving a good enough performance in both pieces on the program to keep me feeling the evening was a little better than meh.

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