Friday, June 23, 2006

Liszt's Dante Symphony

Friday night I went back to the Symphony to hear Conlon conduct Lizst's Dante Symphony, which I'd never heard before. This performance claims to recreate Liszt's original conception, which was to project a magic lantern show along with the music. While the music played, we saw sketches & paintings that were commissioned for the piece. The images were projected onto a pair of screens flanking the orchestra. Along with the images were inter-titles that narrated the program of the symphony. The inter-titles were helpful, I suppose, but Conlon's pre-concert lecture explained the program pretty thoroughly already. In the end I found myself focusing on the music & not the images.

The piece engaged my attention the whole time. It did a good job following the broad emotional arc of The Divine Comedy. The resembance to Wagner was very evident. The middle section kept sounding like it was about to turn into Parsifal. In the Paolo & Francesca section, there was a passage with 2 clarinets playing parallel intervals that reminded me of the 3rd act of Siegfried. Supposedly there is even a Tristan chord in there among the strangely shifting harmonies, but I must have missed it this time around.

I like Conlon's conducting. He is always comfortably ahead of the orchestra, & has a good sense of proportion. All the sections flowed smoothly from one to another. Most importantly, he made sure that everything was phrased & that expressive points were being made. Conlon made a great case for the music, even if I wasn't sold on the multimedia aspect of the performance.

There was a beautiful, very soft bass clarinet solo in the middle section. The boys choirs made a surprising, mystical entrance by singing from the back of the loge section. A solo voice came from another location of the hall, but I wasn't sure from where. No matter, the effect was appropriately ethereal.

As at the end of this Verdi Requiem, Conlon again sustained a pianissimo ending & held the hall in silence with his upraised left hand for several long seconds after the last notes faded away. He really communicates with this audience.

This concert is part of 6.5 Fridy series. The event begins at 6:30 with a lecture by Conlon. This lasts 40 minutes. Then there is a 20 minute intermission, followed by the symphony, which is 50 minutes in duration. The musicians wear jackets & ties instead of tuxedoes. We were out of the hall by 8:30. Before the performance, I kept worrying about getting hungry during the performance, so I ate a power bar during the intermission. I don't get the purpose of this format.

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