Editorial Note: This is a copy of an assignment I had to do for my music appreciation class. I did it in a rush, so I’m not too fond of it, but some of you might find some redeeming value in it. If not, I apologize in advance and I vow that the next academic paper you read from me will worth reading through this crap. I think it’s some of the best stuff I’ve ever written. I’ll post it within the next two weeks.
CONCERT #1, April 9: Interpreti Veneziani
My trek through the concert attendance portion of music appreciation began at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, where I was to see a performance of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. When my wife and I began to look for tickets to complete my assignment, this was choice was a no brainer. We are both big fans of The Four Seasons, but what we couldn’t have known before is what a beautiful and intense performance of the piece we were about to witness.
The phrase “save the best for last” did not apply to my concert attendance experience. The group taking the stage that night was Interpreti Veneziani, a baroque revival nonet. They are based in Venice, Italy, and regularly perform in the same cathedral where some of Vivaldi’s pieces were played for the very first time. The nine-member assemblage is made up of four violins, two violas, one cello, one bass, and a harpsichord. For what the group lacks in number, it makes up for in powerful and masterful play.
My wife and I took our seats in the performance hall, and as soon as the first notes of “La Primavera” (“Spring”) were played, we were blown away. The group gave you a feeling that you were there for the first time the piece was ever played. It was an intimate setting that made you feel as if you and the music were one. It was an incredible thrill for me to hear the piece played by such extraordinary artists.
When I began the evening, I had every intention of being a critical listener. I brought a notepad along with me to the event to take extensive notes. But, I stopped taking notes altogether by the time the performers had made it through the first two seasons. I was sucked into concert so entirely, that all critical thoughts floated away in the summer breeze. As autumn and winter rolled around I was almost completely a casual listener. I say almost because there was still this referential part of me that couldn’t help but to be transported to that time of kings and queens and powdered wigs.
There was an intermission after The Four Seasons had been completed, but even though my favorite part of the night was over, the entertainment was not. When we returned to our seats and Interpreti Veneziani returned to the stage, they opened the second half of their act with a fast-paced piece by Pugnani and Kreisler entitled “Preludio e Allegro.” Then, they were on to “Concerto Grosso” by Handel, and concluded their music listed in the program with “La Campanella” by Paganini. But, the night was far from over, as the group performed four encores to standing ovations each time.
All in all, the evening could not have been more enjoyable. If the rest of my concerts were to be as great as this one, then this may be the best assignment that I had ever received. But, I think I’ve already mentioned that we didn’t save the best for last.
CONCERT #2, April 10: Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra
The phrase that fits with the second concert is “it was so nice, let’s do it twice.” My wife and I returned to the Walton Arts Center the very next night to see The Four Seasons, yet again. This time the piece would be performed by the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra. We were also accompanied to the concert by our 12 year-old cousin, Danielle, in an attempt to bring a little culture to her life.
Unlike the night before, I had no intentions of being a critical listener at all. Left behind were the notepad, and all critique building thoughts. But, I was naïve to think that I could watch the same piece two nights in a row and not be critical of one performance versus the other. So, again, I was to transform as a listener mid-performance, from casual to critical and back again.
The Philharmonic began their night with an Overture from Rossini’s Semiramide before embarking on the first two concertos of The Four Seasons. I enjoyed Semiramide, and its jumps back and between slow and quiet, fast and loud, and fast and quiet moments, but that was the end of my casual listening time until after intermission. When the Arkansas Philharmonic started “Spring,” I was automatically thrown into critical mode. I began to compare the loud and brash, full orchestral arraignment with the intimate portrayal of the piece I had heard the night before, and I found myself leaning toward Interpreti Veneziani’s version. The simple string and harpsichord arrangement seemed to me to be more true to Vivaldi’s original intent. I was still able to enjoy the Philharmonic’s performance of The Four Seasons, but throughout the duration, I could not help but think how much more the music had touched me the night before.
During the intermission, Danielle informed us that she was bored; so much for bring a little culture into her life. We also discovered that the concert was also being attended by Miles Fish, the teacher of my class and my wife’s former choir director while she attended NWACC. He was recognized by the conductor, and we decided we would stop and say hello to him after the evening was over.
The Philharmonic concluded the night with a selection from Spartacus entitled Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia by Khachaturian, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol. The Rimsky-Korsakov piece included the section called Fandango, which Interpreti Veneziani had also covered the night before in one of their numerous encores. As with the other piece that were played by both group, I enjoyed the performance of the Viennese group over the Arkansans.
We left the auditorium and met Miles in the reception area. I’m not sure he remembered my wife, but that’s understandable considering the number of students that must have moved through the choral program at NWACC since Miles became its head, and he and I had only met briefly before due to the online nature of my class. In the end, it was another good evening of doing homework – even Danielle said she had fun.
CONCERT #3, April 25: The University of Arkansas
Schola Cantorum, Master Chorale, and Donna Voce
Concert three was the only unplanned excursion during my tour of concerts. I only came upon it because I was short on time and short on concerts. During the day of April 25th, I sat down at the computer to begin to this assignment, and catalog the first two concerts in which I had attended. I went online to look at the course syllabus, and see what exactly Miles was looking for in my concert attendance report. It was then that I discovered that we were supposed to attend four concerts, not three. My stomach lurched, and I popped open an internet browser. I directed the browser to the University of Arkansas Music Department’s page, and searched for any concerts remaining for the year. I was left with three and one of those was at the same time as my final concert tomorrow night – so now there were two. There was a percussion recital on the campus at 6:30, but when the clock in the corner of my screen read 5:55, I knew there was no way I would make it to Fayetteville in time. My final chance was the University of Arkansas Schola Cantorum, Master Chorale, and Donna Voce’s performance of Durufle’s Requiem.
I have never been much of a fan of choral music, so I brought a book with me to the concert at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. My intent was to be a very casual listener. My fears of boredom were only abated by the fact that I knew a requiem was for a burial mass, but this was my last resort. But, as before, in my previous two concert experiences, my listening stance was destined to change.
The chapel at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church is mostly glass on the side walls and gives you an instant connect with God and nature. It was a very peaceful place, but the most striking feature of the chapel is its massive pipe organ. The brushed, stainless steel pipes take up almost the entire back wall of the space.
The concert began with the Schola Cantorum and Donna Voce groups filing in from the east entrance. These were the smallest of the three groups that were performing. They performed Festival Te Deum by Britten. At this point, my beliefs were confirmed – I was going to be bored, so I dove into my book. After the piece, the full choir filed out, and then the Schola Cantorum returned, this time with the Master Chorale. The Master Chorale is a massive group, and when they combined with the Schola Cantorum, I wasn’t sure they were going to all fit in the chapel, but somehow they managed.
I returned my attention to my book until I was torn away from the pages by a beautiful alto solo during another Britten piece entitled “Rejoice in the Lamb.” That was followed by an almost as impressive tenor solo. I laid my book aside and listened intently for the rest of the presentation.
As for my change as a listener, that came when the two groups returned from a brief intermission to begin Durufle’s Requiem. The melancholy of the piece brought about thoughts loved ones that have passed on, and I became a referential listener before I knew it. On the way home, it hit me that this concert was the epitome of why music appreciation exists – to introduce us to music that we would have otherwise avoided.
CONCERT #4, April 26: The University of Arkansas Symphony Orchestra
The last concert of the music appreciation season was a return to the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville for the University of Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s year-end concert which they called “Fate.”
The first piece they played was “Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra” by Tomasi. Dr. Richard Rulli, a University of Arkansas professor who teaches trumpet, brass chamber music, and conducts the trumpet ensemble, was the featured soloist on the selection. You could tell Dr. Rulli knows a considerable amount about the trumpet from his superb performance. The piece was a little too brassy for my tastes. I tend to enjoy pieces with more strings and more flow. The tininess of the trumpet has never held much joy for my ears. The piece was performed magnificently, but I personally did not care for the selection.
An intermission followed the concerto, and when the orchestra returned, they came back with a piece that was much more to my liking. They played Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 4 in F minor.” It featured more of the string section, a group that appeared to be a strong one within the orchestra. There were a few individuals within the string section that I just could not take my eyes off of. The concertmaster, or first chair violin, was a young man that played with such passion that I don’t know how he went the whole performance without exploding. He sawed on the strings with his bow like he was trying to cut his instrument in half.
The first chair cellist was almost the opposite of the concertmaster. Instead of extreme passion, he was the embodiment of composure. He played with such supreme confidence. I started to make assumptions about his personality away from the orchestra. I could only think that someone that sure of himself couldn’t help but be cocky and arrogant in real life. I would have liked to have met him after the show to prove my theory right or wrong, but I never got the chance.
The next performer I found myself watching routinely was the third chair cellist. Her parents were seated just behind us, so I was intrigued by what instrument she played when she came down and talked before the show. She was a tiny, wisp of a girl so I naturally assumed she would play a light instrument like the flute or clarinet. You can imagine my surprise when she hoisted up the cello which was almost as big as her. I was amazed at how she could command the large instrument.
The last of the string players was brought to my attention by wife. My wife is a violist, and she couldn’t help but notice the horrid bowing of one of the violinists. She told me that when you play, your bow should almost come across the strings in the same place every time. This particular violinist’s bow stroke varied by four or five inches every time. Of course, from then on it became a distraction to me.
This concert was the only one that I remained a casual listener though out the performance. That might be because they only played the two selections, and I didn’t have time to go through a listening paradigm shift. On other hand, it could be because I never invested enough of myself into the performance to be anything but a casual listener.