Lahti Symphony Orchestra's opening concert of the season on the 21st of September 2023
As the first sounds from the orchestra reached my ears, I knew the concert would be a wonderful ending to my busy day. Sitting in the concert hall felt both calming and inspiring at the same time. The things we had discussed during the day at a couple of musicology lectures kept going round in my head, and the concert turned out to be a perfect extension to the lectures.
Richard Wagner: Overture and Liebestod from the opera Tristan and Isolde (1865)
Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Violin Concerto D Major Op. 35 (1945)
Missy Mazzoli: Orpheus Undone (2020)
Leonard Bernstein: Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (1961)
Conductor: Roderick Cox
Solo violin: Randall Goosby
To be honest, I did not expect for this concert to be so impactful, but in the end I got goose bumps during every piece at some point. Getting goose bumps is definitely not a requirement for a concert experience to be successful, but they are a clear indicator that the music has been played well and that I have been able to take in the music on a deeper level (assuming that I don't get the chills only because I'm physically cold😜). This time the goose bumps came in moments when a harmonic or rhythmic tension was resolved with well-executed power from the orchestra. The concert truly elevated me from my day-to-day life and listening to the music felt so lovely and inspiring – these are, to me, the best benefits of going to concerts in general.
A fun coincidence
When the concert started and the first leitmotifs and the famous Tristan-chord from Wagner's Tristan and Isolde hung in the air, I began to wonder why they sounded so familiar. Then it hit me that we had just listened to the piece earlier during the day on a lecture about the history of Western Art Music.😆 I didn't remember before the concert that the piece will be in the concert's program, because I mainly went there to hear Korngold's Violin Concerto and the music of West Side Story, and because I had written the artist presentation of Randall Goosby in the program leaflet. Anyways, it was a fun coincidence that I heard Tristan in the concert.
A cinematic look
After I got goose bumps from the famous Liebestod of Isolde it was time to listen to Korngold's Violin Concerto, played by the violinist Randall Goosby. For some reason, when I was watching the performance, I began to feel like I was watching a film instead. I was sitting right in the centre of the concert hall, so the "mis-en-scène" of the stage looked so symmetrical and all the people on the stage looked visually polished with their black outfits. I have to mention that the conductor Roderick Cox had a great stage presence and good styling too: a black tuxedo suit with the hems of the trousers slightly shortened, a black mandarin collar shirt and black patent shoes.
In addition to his Violin Concerto, Korngold was also known for his opera Die tote Stadt (1920) and for his film music, that he composed in Hollywood during the Second World War. I think of his Violin Concerto as a very cinematic piece, but on the other hand it doesn't have too many film music clichés either. It's just a perfect mix of virtuosic elements and catchy melodies. I've listened to the first movement the most, and it will remain as my favourite movement of the concerto, but I was surprised how much I liked the second and the third movement as well. I ended up analyzing the third movement for an assignment for the course about Western Art Music.
While watching the concert I began to think about the culture of classical music that was happening around me from the perspective of the 19th century European music culture, about which we were talking at the lectures during the day. Even though so many of the 19th century mindsets and traditions concerning classical music are still present in our current culture, it was pleasant to notice what has also changed for the better.
We all know that, in the light of history, it is not evident for example that women can play in an orchestra, and that they can choose to play whichever instrument they like. This concert was once again proof of the fact that we don't consider it inappropriate anymore, that women play different instruments in a public concert. It also felt nice that, although the audience was full of grey-haired classical music-loving people from a Finnish small-ish town, we clapped enthusiastically for the African American conductor and soloist. Even though their cultural background might have been relatively unfamiliar to most people in the concert hall, we were all united because of our mutual love for the music that we heard that night.
If we think about the program of the concert from the perspective of 19th century ideals, it was quite radical that we heard music from such a great variety of composers in the same concert: they weren't all men, they represented different genres of orchestral music and they were from different eras. For example Missy Mazzoli's piece Orpheus Undone was a contemporary piece and then again West Side Story is a Broadway musical, and of course the 'entertainment' side of orchestral music is historically considered less valuable than the more 'serious' classical repertoire. In fact, it could also be considered inappropriate that we heard music from Korngold and Bernstein, who were both Jewish, whereas Wagner was a well-known anti-Semite. The good news is that the success of the concert shows that the music itself mattered more than the historical and social context of the music or the composers. We were there to just enjoy some good music together.
The cherry on top of the concert was when Randall Goosby played Louisiana Blues Strut as his encore after the concerto. The piece had, as one can guess, some wonderful blues harmony, swing and syncopation. I'm guessing that that kind of a piece as an encore wouldn't have been correct in a classical music concert in the past – it could have been even shocking, and lead to social discrimination. Instead, at this point in time, the piece felt like a compelling and fun choice that showed us a different side of the soloist's musical DNA.
The only thing I'd wish to change in the concert culture of classical music for now, is that it's not appropriate to jam along to pieces in the audience when the pieces are swingin'. Especially in this concert, it felt kind of stupid in many instances, when the music was swinging, that everybody just sat there almost still. At most, people could tap their feet or nod their heads to the beat, as long as no one is disturbed around you.😆 Of course, very often it is ideal to sit in silence when listening to classical music, but when the music has a beat that makes you move, it would be nice if the social norms would allow for a bit of jamming along.🙊
Well, even though I had trouble sitting still and not dancing in some moments, this concert was such a great experience.😜 Thank you again Lahti Symphony Orchestra for this quality concert – until next time!