19 November 2017

Oregon Symphony, November 18, 2017

Beethoven: Symphony No. 2
John Adams: Absolute Jest
Paul Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber

The concert was quite interesting. Johannes Debus conducted. The Beethoven 2d symphony, which is quite charming, was very well played and came off with good effect. But the other music in the program was actually more interesting. John Adams's Absolute Jest, which is a sort of Metamorphosis of themes of Beethoven (especially from the late quartets) was excitingly played and multifaceted. I am not always a fan of Adams (though I tend to like him better than Glass and other American so called minimalists), but this work rewards attention. The use of a string quartet as a solo group, sometimes pitted against the orchestra, sometimes interwoven with it, each commenting on the other, is very well done and gives the work some meaty texture. The last piece, in some ways the model for the Adams piece, was the Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, by Paul Hindemith (1940, written after he emigrated to America to escape the Nazis). I have heard this before, and found it rather conventional mid-century neoclassical fare, but this performance was so electric and sparkling that I heard the music in a whole new light. Hindemith is not a "popular" composer. He wasn't a serialist or doctrinarian, and some of his music is quite charming, but it doesn't yield its charms all that easily. This piece was originally supposed to be a ballet, and the choreographer really just wanted an orchestration of some dances by Weber (1786-1826), but that fell apart, because Hindemith had other ideas. These aren't arrangements; it's a unified work that uses its source material as a springboard. You have to pay attention, get in touch with the thinking behind it, let it seep in. This was a thoroughly rewarding experience overall, and let's face it, Classical symphony orchestra concerts in our postmodern era do not always rise to that level; frequently, workaday competence is all you get. Not this time... these musicians were engaged and thoughtful, as well as masterful, and the result was just great.

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