April in Lyon. Spring decided to wait a little before showing up.
After the Moscow adventure it was nice to get back to my other home. These would be the final two weeks in the Auditorium, as it will be closed for about 5 months while crews repair the air conditioning and heating systems. Also, the organ is undergoing a transplant. New pipes and a general cleaning are in store for the instrument.
In the meantime, we had two wonderful programs to present, each featuring Jean Yves Thibaudet, a Lyon native. I have said it before but it bears repeating. In my opinion, there is no pianist who has grown so much over the years. His approach to music has always been refined and subtle but during the past five years or so, he has captured the essence of the long line. It does not matter what he is playing, you can always be assured that Jean Yves will deliver an outstanding performance, filled with color and beauty.
For the first of the two programs, he gave the French premiere of Sir James MacMillan’s Third Piano Concerto. The piece was premiered in Minnesota a couple years ago and Jean Yves has been touring with it. This is a major addition to the repertoire, with virtuoso writing for both piano and orchestra. The overall harmonic language is conservative but there is a complexity to the writing that gives the work its edge. There are echoes of Messiean and Dutilleux throughout the duration of the piece. The MacMillan voice comes through in the composer’s use of religious motifs, a hallmark of almost each piece he writes. The audience responded with enthusiasm and I look forward to presenting this concerto next season in Detroit.
The program ended with a very exuberant Beethoven 7 and began with the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Sadly, this wonderful gem is relegated to children’s concerts these days. It does not appear on subscription very often and no one at the ONL remembered playing this piece for the adult audience. We had plenty of time to revisit the work in rehearsal and there were moments when the orchestra was surprised to learn some of the subtle touches that usually are glossed over due to lack of preparation time.
For the last set of concerts in the Audtorium, we, like so many orchestras, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the premiere of Le Sacre du Printemps. I can only imagine how much money Boosey and Hawkes is making this season. Of course the story of the first performance is well known at this time. There are no more riots taking place and audiences flock to be part of the performance.
I have been thinking about revolution. To me there are five works that totally altered the world of classical music. You may have your own list but mine include the Eroica, Tristan, Faun, Sacre and Pierrot Lunaire. Each of these pieces changed the musical landscape forever. Is it possible to play them and provoke the same passions that existed at the time of creation? No, but we can at least try to convey the sense of drama and energy that was present at the beginning.
Stravinsky denied his Russian roots when speaking of Sacre. Today we see the piece as a savage depiction of ceremony. Sorry Igor but there is no way those haunting tunes are anything but the melodies of your homeland. So it is necessary to emphasize the layers upon layers of camouflage that are heaped over these lines in order to depict the depravity of the music. All conductors must be mindful that this is first and foremost a ballet. Feeling the world of dance mitigates the technical challenges. The Danse Sacrale is really a waltz but one for dancers with many feet.
Every musician in the ONL took this piece to heart. After all, it was premiered in France so there is some feeling of ownership. From the opening bassoon solo to the final thump, one sensed an investment from the orchestra. By the time we finished, the audience seemed to leap from their seats, unusual by Lyon standards. Bow after bow ensued and I finally ended it by holding up the score for everyone to salute the master who created this score.
Jean Yves played the Gershwin Concerto, which worked surprisingly well with the Stravinsky. Again, the pianist showed that conception of long line and color. We began the program with the Second Essay by Barber, a wonderful 12-minute work that was being played in Lyon for the first time. Several musicians wanted to see more of this composer in future seasons. I will be more than happy to comply.
We announced next season at a press conference and also introduced a few works to the audience at a special free concert. This was a very good idea as we sold many subscription tickets immediately. You can view the season on the ONL web site.
Rather than write about the last week in April, I am going to wait until the DSO has played its concerts in Carnegie Hall. What I can tell you is that the orchestra sounds just sensational in the symphonies by Charles Ives and the opportunity to perform all four of the works in that form is something that will be long remembered.
See you in a few weeks,