Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Effective, But Not Shattering

Late last week Joshua and I attended our first orchestral concert together.

Considering how much both of us like music, it is noteworthy that it took us almost nine months to rouse ourselves to attend an orchestral concert.

We heard the Minnesota Orchestra play Mahler's Symphony No. 6. The conductor was James Conlon, whom I have met. The only previous James Conlon performance I have attended, if I am not mistaken, was a performance of Richard Strauss's "Salome" at the Paris Opera in 2003.

As preparation for the concert, Josh and I listened to four different compact discs of Mahler's Sixth: the Karajan, the Boulez, the Yoel Levi and the 1970 Solti.

At the concert, the orchestra played to a high standard, and the performance was effective. It was not, however, special, and I believe that performances of the Mahler Sixth should be special, if not outright shattering. Neither of us was shattered.

Last week was only the second time I had heard Mahler's Sixth in concert. The first time I heard the Mahler Sixth was with the Dresden Staatskapelle under Giuseppe Sinopoli, perhaps a year or so before Sinopoli died. That was a very frustrating concert, because there was a start-and-stop quality about Sinopoli's conducting that evening. The orchestra's players became visibly frustrated with Sinopoli, and it was clear that they could not decide whether to follow Sinopoli or whether to ignore him. Sinopoli was apparently frustrated, too, because he did not return to the concert stage for any bows at the conclusion of that performance.

My parents attend Minnesota Orchestra concerts most weeks, but I am only prone to want to go when a particular program or a particular conductor genuinely appeals to me. The same applies to concerts by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, whose offerings very seldom appeal to me.

Many concertgoers in the Twin Cities are very approving of the Minnesota Orchestra's current conductor, Osmo Vanska, but I find myself diffident about his performances. Outside of the Scandinavian repertory, his specialty, I do not find him to be remarkable in any way. Perhaps I need to hear him more, but in the half-dozen Vanska concerts I have attended, in Minneapolis and in Washington, I have never been impressed.

A year or so ago, Vanska, in an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, announced that the Minnesota Orchestra was now the finest orchestra in the United States. I fully support our local orchestra, and I do not object to a bit of boosterism now and then, but has this man not heard the Cleveland Orchestra, or the Chicago Symphony, or the Philadelphia Orchestra?

If the Minnesota Orchestra were the equal of the Cleveland Orchestra, I would not only attend the orchestra's concerts weekly, I would attend them nightly.

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