Conductor: Marin Alsop
Barber: Second Essay for Orchestra, Op. 17
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No 3 in C Major, Op. 26 – Simon Trpčeski
Beethoven: Symphony No 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55, “Eroica” – Arranged by Gustav Mahler
Like for many music lovers all around the world, Carnegie Hall has always held a special place in my heart. So when I first heard that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, whose concerts I usually attend at Strathmore, was going to headline the November 13-14 weekend at the legendary music venue, I was determined to go regardless of my place of residence at the time. This weekend being my first one as a New Yorker made the prospect of seeing all these familiar faces in my new home even more alluring, kind of linking the recent past and the brand new present.
And last night’s occasion turned out to be special all right, but not for the expected reasons. Being back in the hall was as wonderful as always, of course, but the feeling of bliss quickly turned to frustration and resentment when an almost continuous and dreadfully distinct rattling noise seemed to come out of nowhere as soon as the orchestra started playing the first piece. It took a couple of minutes to figure out that it was coming from the air conditioning system above our heads, and another couple of minutes to realize that it was not stopping.
After the second piece was over, I approached one of the ushers who assured me that it had been reported, but who did not know what would be done about it. Since my friend Deborah and I had made the trip to hear the BSO – not Carnegie Hall’s air conditioning system – perform, and that there was no guarantee that any action was being taken – like, say, hmmm, TURNING IT OFF, for example – I grabbed her and we found other seats on a lower level, far from the killjoy device. Barber and Prokofiev had been ruined, but I would be darned if I’d let the same thing happen to Beethoven. One out of three is not too much to ask, is it?
So I am afraid that I cannot say much about the performance of Barber’s or Prokofiev’s works, but from what I managed to grasp during the few seconds of respite now and then, rising Macedonian pianist Simon Trpčeski handled Prokofiev’s challenging third piano concerto with eagerness and sensitiveness. I can only hope that I’ll be able to hear him again soon sans rattling accompaniment or with a more pro-active management in charge.
Once safely parked in a quiet corner of the hall, we were finally able to enjoy one of the finest orchestras of the country perform one of the most dazzling symphonies ever written in a version arranged by Gustav Mahler. I did not instantly connect with Beethoven’s Eroica when I first heard it, but it is rather a piece that has slowly but surely grown on me. Now I fully relish the simple but bold opening, the ground-breaking structures, the recurring heroic theme and the overall intensity of the whole enterprise. Not to mention that the original dedication to Napoleon never fails to tackle my nationalistic pride, never mind the subsequent fallout. Mahler's arrangements add quite a few wind and brass instruments, which provides a more pronounced sonic power, and it is probably safe to think that Beethoven would have approved. Last night, an uncharacteristically silent Marin Alsop and the musicians under her command went all out and made the German composer’s altered third symphony rise and fill up the concert all with much force and passion, finally reminding us what a unique experience listening to live music can be, especially when it is heard as originally intended, undisturbed.