|Aspen, July 18, 2004|
|Monday, 26 July 2004|
Concert review by SeekUYoda
We showed up at 3 for the pre-concert talk and saw two chairs on the stage, expecting them to be for Williams and Shaham - but the festival's Artistic Advisor, Asadour Santourian, came out and expressed Williams' regrets that he had to back out of the chat to conserve his energy for later. Rats! But Mr. Santourian gave a very informative talk on Vaughan Williams and Holst, whom I didn't know where so connected, and spoke with Mr. Shaham on TreeSong and the Violin Concerto. Mr. Shaham sounded really honored to have such a close connection with Williams and especially to have helped shape TreeSong in a small way. He said he and Williams spent hours on the phone discussing it - Williams would say "play this bit" and he'd play it and Williams would say "No, that's not quite right. Maybe add a grace note here" and he'd play it again over the phone.
The concert itself took place in the Benedict Music Tent, which was very large and not sold out! We had second-row seats off to the right, so we could see Williams' face as he was conducting.
First was Vaughan Williams' The Wasps Overture - very energetic and exciting. He milked the mood in all the right places and it was great fun to hear. I wish I could remember more about the performance, but I couldn't do much except listen and stare. Williams left the stage after the piece.
Second came Williams' Violin Concerto, written in memory of and at the suggestion of his first wife, Barbara Ruick Williams. Williams didn't introduce any of the works on the concert - he didn't speak at all to the audience, actually, but Shaham and Santourian said before the concert that the piece is a very personal statement on the part of Mr. Williams. The performance was riveting - I was captivated! I heard the piece on CD and didn't react very strongly, but the performance that afternoon was fascinating. Hear this piece live if you can! It is not an elegy, nor is it a funeral march, nor anything else one might associate with death, but it is ? well, I don?t know. Parts of it sounded like Hindemith (the way the melody keeps spiraling around chromatically), parts of it sounded like Holst?s Hammersmith (the slow woodwind accompaniment to the violin in octaves), and all of it demonstrated Williams? command of his compositional ?chops.? My favorite was the bit in the second movement where the violin is playing along and suddenly disregards tempo and everything else for a couple bars and plays along out of tempo and rhythm with everyone else. I think it?s meant to be a little joke, and apparently so did Mr. Shaham because his face lit up and he smiled as he played it and looked up at Williams.
TreeSong came after the (long) intermission. I wasn?t as riveted by the piece, but it was still lovely and haunting. Williams insisted that Shaham enter and leave the stage first and take the majority of the ovation ? modest as always.
Williams chose all the repertoire for the concert and selected 3 movements from Holst?s The Planets to close the afternoon. ?Mars? was first ? Williams came out and stood on the podium, gathering himself and you could see his head nodding a bar and a half or so of the tempo before he began. ?Mars? was very exciting! I?ve never seen it performed live before, and was surprised to find out that the opening is spicato in the strings! (Played by bouncing the bow off the string, not plucking or drawing as is normal). The tempo seemed to catch the orchestra by surprise ? perhaps they weren?t paying attention to his head-nods ? but it was a bit quick and very dramatic. The brass was wonderful, of course, and probably had a great time shaking the walls with their excellent sound. ?Neptune? was second, and from this performance I guess that the orchestra only had the morning?s rehearsal with Williams, because their communication seemed off at times. The horn soloist and Williams didn?t quite seem to agree on what the cue was for the second bar?s solo entrance. Oh well ? it sounded lovely, anyway (especially if you like horn vibrato). ?Jupiter? closed the concert, and was like ?The Wasps? ? very well and tastefully done. He stretched and emphasized all the right places and the lyrical middle section was just right ? slow enough to be lovely but not so slow it put you to sleep (as is very easy to do!)
He returned twice to the stage after the initial ovation and graciously acknowledged the fine performance by the orchestra, waved to us and said ?Thank you.? There was no encore, but then, there seldom are encores in non-pops concerts (and this was definitely not a pops concert!). It was fascinating to see Williams in the traditional ?classical? conductor role and to watch this demonstration of his life?s learning.
There was a long line of fans waiting to meet him backstage after the concert, but he plunked down on his stool and signed autographs and took pictures with everyone! He was very kind, shook my hand, and talked with me for a moment. I asked him what his favorite key is, and he thought about it and said ?D.? (I?d wondered for a while ? it?s interesting to me, anyway!). He said ?good to see you again? (I told him I?d met him in Chicago) and wished me luck and was very nice and patient through the whole encounter. I think if I?d had to greet that many people, I?d have run away!
It was a wonderful concert, and I hope he comes back next year! I?m truly sorry that more of you weren?t able to go ? it was a departure from the other two Williams-conducted concerts I?d seen and I really enjoyed the non-pops atmosphere. I hope he did too!
The Aspen Times has pre-concert interview with John Williams in which the composer discusses the early years of his career, his concert works and his collaboration with Gil Shaham.
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