Tiger: We’re back to discuss in greater detail, the symphony we attended on Thursday, April 2nd, while at Sakura-Con 2015 in Seattle.
Rabbit: This is like part two of our “let’s milk this weekend for all it’s worth” series of posts.
Tiger: Well, it would’ve been difficult to connect the topics of anime and classical music together into one post. Better to bring it up here so we can discuss just this subject.
Rabbit: We were lucky to attend the Seattle Symphony’s performance of Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2 with Argentine pianist, Ingrid Fliter.
Tiger: Founded in 1903, the Seattle Symphony has been awarded one Grammy and two Emmys. It is under the direction of Ludovic Morlot, Music Director, who is currently wrapping up his fourth season. They perform at one of the premier concert venues in the world, Benaroya Hall, in downtown Seattle. We were able to walk to the performance from our hotel, such a great location, and it has amazing acoustics.
Rabbit: We’ve been there before too. PAX uses it as one of its largest theaters and the concerts are often hosted there.
Tiger: With guest conductor, Thomas Søndergård, the symphony was set to perform Karol Szymanowski’s Concert Overture in E major, Op. 12; Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21; and Sergey Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, Op. 100.
Rabbit: We were there for the Chopin but were excited for the Prokofiev too.
Tiger: The first piece of music to be performed was Szymanowski’s Concert Overture in E major, Op. 12. I have to admit, I was slightly upset when I saw that this was up first for the performance.
Rabbit: Slightly? You were practically ranting about it.
Tiger: I read the name wrong; I thought it was Pawel Szymański who is still alive. Classical music is not classical when the composer is still alive! Anyway, for those of you who don’t know, Szymanowski was a Polish composer born in 1882 and died in 1937. He was considered to be a member of Young Poland, a 20th century modernist movement along with Karlowicz and Fitelberg. Young Poland sought to immortalize their culture within music, focusing on traditional Polish music among other themes.
Rabbit: Ironically, Szymanowski was under the strong influence of Richard Strauss and The Five.
Tiger: I caught a bit of avant-garde in there as well.
Rabbit: You mean impressionism.
Tiger: No, I don’t. I hate that people called it “impressionism,” even the so-called impressionists didn’t call it impressionism.
Rabbit: You just have to be different than everyone else, don’t you? It’s like you calling it the Enlightenment Period instead of the Classical Period.
Tiger: We’re getting off topic here. Anyway, Szymanowski’s Concert Overture was originally drafted in 1904 and orchestrated the following year. It was his first symphonic composition and is an imitative work of Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. Even though it was his first, it’s still considered a wonderful repertoire piece, which is why I think Seattle chose it. Plus, it also went well with the theme of the night being Polish and from a Young Poland composer.
Rabbit: Very true, though Prokofiev wasn’t Polish, he did share some similar life events that Szymanowski and Chopin did. I enjoyed it, it was quite nice though it felt like a hors d’oeuvre for what was about to come next.
Tiger: Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2! This is by far my favorite concerto ever.
Rabbit: A concerto is a piece of music written for a solo instrument and accompanied by an orchestra or large ensemble. Since they rolled the piano to the front of the stage, we knew that it was time for the Chopin. I was really excited too, I love this music.
Tiger: We probably own over 20 versions of this concerto. I tend to listen to the version by Dang Thai Son with Frans Brüggen and the Orchestra of the 18th Century the most.
Rabbit: This time Søndergård would be accompanied by Ingrid Fliter. I read an interview with her and it sounded like she really loves playing Chopin.
Tiger: Chopin was born in 1810, died in 1849, and like Szymanowski; was of Polish decent. This was actually Chopin’s first piano concerto; the number two denotes that it was the second to be published. Written in 1829, it premiered the following year with Chopin playing the solo and conducting from the piano. Chopin was a recent graduate of the Warsaw Conservatory and still trying to establish himself. He was ambitious and this is reflected in his concerto.
Rabbit: This concerto is often compared with those of Mozart and Beethoven and their larger classical forms. No. 2 was actually composed in the style called stile brillante, made famous by virtuosos Hummel and Weber. This is probably why Chopin’s concerto is more of an organized showcase of skill versus the more cohesive form of the classical style.
Tiger: Poetry versus structure I say. His concerto is bold and colorful; it is also very personal and highlights his imagination throughout. Chopin’s Concerto has three movements; the Maestoso is moody, the Larghetto is passionate, and the Allegro vivace feels like it’s going to dance off the stage ala mazurka. Actually Fliter was much more aggressive than I thought she would be. It sounds sexist but I thought she would be more sensual like Son but she attacked the piano more like Jenő Jandó does.
Rabbit: Her vision of the Larghetto made it feel like I was listening to an Italian aria. Supposedly Chopin wrote the second movement for his love of Constancia Gladkowska, a singer he met at the conservatory.
Tiger: The third movement, Allegro vivace is my favorite. So fast and uninhibited, it has flurries of emotion and drama that it’s hard not to get caught up in it. Was it just me, or did they skip the col legno battuto?
Rabbit: I was looking out for that as well, we were in the balcony but still should have been able to catch that.
Tiger: Yeah, I thought I knew every place it is used but I never once saw them do it.
Rabbit: Col legno battuto, or col legno for short, is a technique for bowed string instruments where the musicians strikes the string with the stick of the bow, not the hair. It was truly an impressive performance and Fliter’s interpretation of the work was powerful and dynamic.
Tiger: After a quick intermission, the night was capped off with Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5.
Rabbit: Prokofiev was born in 1891 in Ukraine and died in 1953. His Fifth was composed in 1944 when he spent time at a Soviet Union retreat for composers during WWII.
Tiger: I cannot help but always compare Prokofiev’s Fifth to Shostakovich’s Fifth or even compare and contrast the two composers. When Prokofiev returned to the Soviet Union after spending much time abroad, including in the States and France, Shostakovich was already actively presenting his works. Shostakovich was Prokofiev’s junior but had suffered a scathing review, some say written by Stalin himself, so it was an opportunity for Prokofiev to shine.
Rabbit: The Fifth has four movements; Andante, Allegro marcato, Adagio, and Allegro giocoso. The Andante is rigidly presented in sonata form. The exposition, the beginning of the piece, introduces two themes with the first theme being placid and played by the flute and bassoon. The second theme is more intimate with the oboes and flutes being accompanied by the strings. These two themes are elaborated upon during the development section before being brought back to their original forms in the recapitulation.
Tiger: The Allegro marcato is a throwback to Prokofiev’s pre-Soviet style. Actually, I caught a bit of Debussy in this second movement and it’s my favorite of the Fifth. Prokofiev presents his classic humor with the clarinet solo; the theme really reminds me of the music in an old Disney cartoon.
Rabbit: The Adagio starts off sweet and romantic before evolving into a moodier sound. The high notes of the woodwinds almost sound like lamenting cries from some maiden before the sudden return to the lovely theme, almost as if she awoke from a bad dream.
Tiger: Prokofiev once again brings back his favorite instrument, the clarinet, for the finale. The Allegro giocoso begins with the cellos introducing the first theme from the Andante before breaking out into a rondo, think a musical round of sorts, before the pastoral-esque clarinet is joined by the flute and strings.
Rabbit: It was a wonderful performance and I'm happy we got the opportunity to attend. Too bad it seemed like we were the youngest people there.
Tiger: Very true, do you think that there’s still a demand for live classical performances or is that demand waning?
Rabbit: I still think there are people who love going to the symphony or attending chamber performances, though I know they’re not as popular as they once were. Think what the world was like before movie theaters or the radio. Classical music was the entertainment of the day but now it’s not something everyone gets to experience. But I don’t think you can get such moving performances, where your emotions are truly tapped into, through any other medium than classical music. There is a sophistication to its design that makes it as interesting as any book plot and emotionally touching as any movie. Classical music can also be dramatic and exhilarating, and hearing that live, the sound resonating through your body, is an impressive experience. I believe that there is still a demand to see classical music performed live and I hope that people like us who enjoy going to the symphony can introduce others to the experience.
Tiger: While I love going to any classical performance, all you have to do is take a quick glance at the audience to realize that demand is waning. I would guess that over 80% of attendees were senior citizens and the rest were late middle aged people. Young people aren’t attracted to things like classical music or opera anymore and it’s quite apparent by the music news we see too. Multiple symphonies have had to shut down or cut their seasons short because they cannot sustain themselves. It’s an unfortunate state we are in but I do believe that demand for this form of art is dying. It’s sad to admit but the music can be boring if you don’t know what to listen for. We were both lucky enough to be taught at an early age how to really examine the music, almost like being musical detectives, rather than just passive listeners. How many people do we know that are our age who don’t have a clue about classical music? It’s not something that you find in everyone’s media repertoire anymore so it’s hard to cultivate a love of seeing the music performed live when people aren’t listening to it.
Rabbit: While you may have a point, I think it’s our duty as fans of the symphony to invite others to do something they may have never done before, and that’s go to a live performance. As we left the Benaroya, I overheard a younger person thanking friends for inviting her to the performance. She had never been, had never even heard the music before, but was moved by the live performance. She even expressed interest in attending again, so maybe there still is hope that this truly special art form can continue and eventually thrive.