It’s not every day that I am able to enjoy the various performances that take place at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. For the past few weeks junior Tom Karo and I had attempted to attend a concert at Eastman, and when we heard about the $6 tickets to the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra concert last Saturday, we jumped at the opportunity.
The concert began with Richard Strauss’ ‘Don Juan, Op. 20.” The evening’s program did not contain any works that I had heard before, but having just completed an Early Hispanic Texts course in which I heavily studied the legend of Don Juan, hearing a piece of music inspired by it delighted me. Don Juan is a fabled Spanish ‘womanizer” who seduces women and is willing to fight any male competitor, but is not willing to settle down. The music started right off the bat with a grand statement that may be associated with Don Juan and his ambitious nature. Moreover, the thrilling elements of a chase, of love and fear and of joy and hurt were clearly manifested throughout the piece. The trumpets resembled the mighty voice of Don Juan himself, whereas the flute and oboe represented the voice and emotions of the various women in his life. When the whole ensemble played together, with the French horn section taking the lead, there seemed to be a narrative quality to the striking harmonies and rhythms.
The music was truly brilliant the musicians had such a fantastic open tone, the balance was magnificent and the ensemble playing as a whole gave me goose bumps up and down my arms. Each brass chord put me in awe, wishing I could play the instruments that well. The auditory perception of this composition was enough to marvel over, but the visual perception added so much energy in the auditorium. Seeing every musician move with the music and watching each string player bring life to each down-stroke of the bow amazed me. To be completely honest, I have added a new masterpiece to my list of favorite instrumental works of art.
Next on the program was Strauss’ ‘Four Last Songs.” The first movement, ‘Spring,” depicted the feelings of hope and joy that are linked to the season after the cold and harsh winter. ‘September,” the second movement, contrasted ‘Spring” as the music reflected the close of the summer and transition to the fall season. The music in ‘September” portrayed the end of the established elements from the first movement as it darkened and faded away.
‘Falling Asleep,” the third movement of the piece, unquestionably replicated that sensation. Of all the music on the evening’s program, I felt the strongest urge to nod off during this movement not in the least out of boredom or exhaustion, but rather because the melodies and harmonies were executed in such a manner that put me in a state of complete relaxation.
The fourth movement and last song in the cycle ‘In the Evening’s Glow,” represented the end of the life cycle. At the end of this movement, Strauss even quoted ‘Death and Transfiguration,” a piece he composed many years prior. In all of the movements, the soprano vocalist excellently demonstrated her flawless technique and range with luscious vibrato and perfect intonation.
After a short intermission, the concert concluded with Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, ‘Rhenish, Op. 97.” E-flat major is the key signature that is often regarded as heroic, so even without knowing the symphony, I knew that the harmonies would be uplifting and make for an exceptional finale. The inspiration for this work was the Rhine River and Rhine Valley, hence the nickname ‘Rhenish.” Each of the five movements, performed at varying tempos, created an environment in which nature’s elements like a flowing river and beaming sunlight consume the auditorium. There were definitely some less glorious moments, such as the second movement, which musically illustrates a Gothic cathedral. But, overall, this symphony surely displayed a feeling of pride.
There is no experience comparable to the release of body and soul to a piece of music. None of the zillions of homework problems that awaited me mattered at the time all that mattered was my connection to the music. Having been so long since hearing an orchestral performance, I really did feel like I had rediscovered something missing in my life, and I could not imagine spending my Saturday evening in a more rewarding fashion.
Seligman is a member of the class of 2012.