ASO: Robert Spano with Kirill Gerstein

I have the softest little black bag that the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra gave to me as a subscriber at the concert last night with a little Post-It calendar in it and I feel like it should be useful but I haven’t figured out what to do with it yet. It goes with the new color of the walls in the hallways of Symphony Hall, which were painted black. There are new portraits of the musicians, too, which are in vibrant color and in which everyone is dressed smart casual instead of how they dress on stage. I’m honestly not happy about the dark wall – it now feels even more cramped when the auditorium is emptying out. And the pictures seem kind of disingenuous if they’re going to keep the men of the orchestra performing in tails. It’s not really that bad, though: just not what I’d do. I was pretty happy at first to see that they got rid of the two projection screens hanging off of the proscenium on either side of the stage in favor of one large one suspended from between some of the acoustic shell’s drop panels – sitting in row C made the old ones a bit uncomfortable to watch – but then I noticed that they kept the projector in one of the little compartments in the mezzanine so now we have three lines through anything they put up there from the shadows cast by the hanging microphones over the stage. They do get credit for trying, though, and I think they finally fixed the torn cloth cover over one of the built-in speakers, which is unquestionably a positive. Maybe if I ever become a multi-decamillionaire then I’ll grant them the money for a real renovation.

As with every season-opener, the evening began with the Star Spangled Banner. They had the musicians stand for it this time and I don’t recall them doing that in the past but I may have just never noticed it. It looked kind of awkward…kinda band-ish in a bad way. I have to say, though, that it gave me a newfound respect for the cello section: they all remained seated. You have to appreciate an entire section banding together to protest injustice with that kind of unity.1

The main program began with Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no. 2 with Kirill Gerstein as soloist. It was an excellent performance by all involved. I particularly enjoyed the adagio sostenuto section of the second movement, which was handled with wonderful sensitivity by both Gerstein and the orchestra under Robert Spano’s baton. It came out very sweet without being too schmaltzy. I have to admit that my mind wandered during the third movement, though I can’t blame the musicians for that: the Summer doldrums have really gotten to me and, to make matters worse, I’ve left the Previn/Ashkenazy recording in my car stereo far too much over the years so there’s a bit of me that now (unjustly) regards it as being background music.

There was a delightful encore with Spano joining Gerstein at the piano to play Rachmaninov’s waltz for four hands. I’d never heard it before and thought it was a lot of fun. It starts out very sweetly and develops a sort of driving bit of oomph as it goes on. Both musicians played well and it was a joy to hear.

The evening concluded with a good performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 5. There isn’t much to say about it beyond that: it was good but nothing jumped out at me as being particularly brilliant. A good performance of it, though, is a wonderful thing to hear and it, along with the rest of the concert, made for a great start to the season.

1. If it wasn’t obvious to you that this was a joke, please look up how cellos are played. Then look up Myaskovsky’s Cello Concerto in C minor for an example of some really good cello music that never seems to get programmed around here. back

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