ASO: Robert Spano with Elizabeth Koch Tiscione, Laura Ardan, Andrew Brady, Brice Andrus, & Jeremy Denk

This weekend’s concert by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra featured good performances of works that aren’t necessarily my favorite. It opened with Gandolfi’s Imaginary Numbers. When I first heard it in 2015, I thought that it had some interesting ideas but that a concerto for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn wasn’t entirely the best thing ever. I felt more or less the same way this time: I did enjoy it and appreciate the performances by ASO principals Elizabeth Koch Tiscione, Laura Ardan, Andrew Brady, and Brice Andrus; but I frequently just felt that the music wasn’t quite taking me anywhere.

The featured concerto for the evening was Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 25 with Jeremy Denk soloing. Although I like his operas and songspielen, I’m not a big fan of Mozart’s concert works. Most of what’s programmed of his works are good, but just not to my taste. I generally only like the opening movement of his works, if that, and this wasn’t an exception: I found my mind wandering a bit after the first movement. Denk was impressive, though, and Spano and the orchestra were right there with him.

I really appreciated Denk’s encore. It was this ragtime variation on the Pilgrim’s Chorus from Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Aside from being a pretty clever and fun variation, I loved thinking about just how much it would piss Wagner off to even know that someone had composed it, much less played it. A German march with the left hand with Wagner’s melody presented in syncopated rhythms with roots in Africa with the right: it was the perfect example of how blending cultural influences can enrich art. It was definitely among the best wälschen Dunst mit wälschem Tand sie pflanzen uns in deutsches Land that I’ve ever heard. As far as pokes at Wagner go, it’s up there in cleverness with Nietzsche’s choice to use Bizet’s Carmen to contrast against Wagnerian opera in The Case of Wagner. In a time where attacks on immigrants and Jews are becoming more and more common in almost every country, I think that it’s pretty inconsiderate – if not downright rude – to program a composer who worked so hard to promote such behavior with both his writing and his music. But if his work is to be performed, this is definitely the way to do it. If it wasn’t intended to poke fun of the grand deutsches Arschloch, please don’t tell me.

The concert’s theme of concertos continued into the last piece on the program, Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra. It was well conducted and really showed off the talent of the ASO musicians. If the first two pieces weren’t entirely my taste, the excellent performances of the evening made it an enjoyable concert.

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