ASO: Robert Spano with Robert McDuffie

As I was walking along Peachtree toward the Woodruff Arts Center for last night’s concert by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, I passed a Subaru with an Alabama vanity plate that said “EROICA.” I love the idea that somewhere there is a Beethoven’s Third-Head that travels around visiting concert halls where they play Beethoven’s Symphony no. 3. Hopefully they enjoyed the concert last night: there was some good stuff in it.

The evening kicked off with Michael Kurth’s May Cause Dizziness, which was one of the fanfares commissioned to celebrate Robert Spano’s 10th year with the ASO. It’s a pretty nice little piece: the music trickled in until enough had accumulated that it could be used to form a groove that developed into the soundtrack for a training montage. Comical images went through my mind of Spano undergoing a parody of the kind of training sequences you might see in Rocky or a kung fu movie, but for conducting rather than fighting. Someone needs to storyboard that and film it: it would be hilarious.

Up next was Bernstein’s Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium) with violinist Robert McDuffie soloing. Before the music began, McDuffie gave an excellent introduction to the music and how it relates to the Platonic dialog, demonstrating, along with the orchestra, some of the musical passages he was referring to. I really appreciate this kind of knowledge sharing before a work: you get it a lot more in chamber concerts and, unless you show up early on Thursday to hear Ken Meltzer’s talk, you only get it at an ASO concert if a soloist or guest conductor wants to do it.

The interpretation of the piece was pretty sharp and McDuffie and the orchestra played well. I particularly liked the dialog between McDuffie and Assoc. Principal Cellist Daniel Laufer: they sounded fantastic together. The piece is absolutely beautiful at times and almost always interesting. I’m not a huge fan of the rondo ending, though. There would be something more satisfying for me if it trailed off into something soft and sweet. If it weren’t appropriate to the program of the piece, I’d accuse Bernstein of throwing it in there as a crowd pleaser after the restrained opening of the final movement. That said, it’s a good bit of music and it does fit the work aesthetically, even if it’s not what I want out of the work.

After the intermission, Spano and the orchestra gave the Subaru owner what they came for. The tempo was a bit fast for me for the Eroica. It almost came across like Spano was rushing through it because he’d already done the bit of the evening’s program that really interested him. Perhaps it was closer to Beethoven’s tempo markings, which I understand are often absurdly fast, but I don’t feel that it was the best speed to best express the emotional underpinnings of the piece. It wasn’t dry so much as it didn’t feel like much effort was put into interpretation. The performance was decent, though, and you could definitely get the Beethoven out of it. I was pretty tired by this time and found that my mind would wander and then snap back into place to hear the bits that I liked best. Not the best end to an enjoyable concert, but not bad.

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