It’s not infrequently that someone attending a Chicago Symphony Orchestra performance gets the sense that they are in the midst of world cultural history unfolding in real time.
That said, to open a program and read that the first piece in the concert, Dvořák”s “Husitská Overture, Op. 67”, was used as the close of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first concert EVER on October 16, 1891 gave one goose bumps.
Dvořák was a favorite of the orchestra’s founder, Theodore Thomas, and this piece shared that first program with Beethoven, Wagner and Tchaikovsky. The score was fully up to the historic mantle of music history it holds. This is triumphal music, with an opening by winds and horn. The music then moves through various colors, probably helping to warm the audience from their frigid commute to the concert hall. The rousing finale is as the first concert’s program book stated, “…the close of the overture appears under the triumphant escort of trumpets and trombones.”
Peruvian Conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya then led the orchestra in Carlos Chávez’ “Piano Concerto” with Roosevelt faculty member and Mexican native Jorge Federico Osorio as the soloist.
The word that comes to mind to describe the score and the soloist talent is muscular. The piano thunders the theme at the orchestra in each of the three movements, with the orchestra following suit to take the musical line, repeat it and seem to toss its rejoinder back at the soloist for another call for lead. Fingers flying, Osorio seemed to set the pace from Allegro agitato to lento and in between with the flawless CSO following the lead. The slower second movement did sound at times like a very good movie score, subdued for the action to be happening elsewhere.
The program noted that Chávez was inspired by pre-Columbian Indian culture and tried to integrate it into his music, but it was difficult to discern this influence in this piece. We did hear unusual pairings, particularly between harp and piano both playing in the lower registers and in a way where it was intriguingly difficult to discern the two distinct instruments.
The crown of this performance and how it was billed was the post-intermission “Pictures from an Exhibition” by Modest Mussorgsky and orchestrated by Maurice Ravel. One hears the theme of the promenade that starts this homage to the composer’s friend, artist Victor Hartmann, initiated by the CSO’s renowned brass section as a regal procession.
There are 10 paintings that this symphony honors, varying from a salute to a gnome, to mimicking the shrieks of children at play in a park, to birds scampering ,and more. Every time the promenade theme returns we are reminded of the composer’s devotion to his friend’s work as if the musical line is saying, “Get ready to stop and take a long look at this next painting.”
The program noted that Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s work came somewhat naturally to him as most of his own work similarly started as piano scores. What is most wonderful about this orchestration is the roving spotlight from alto saxophone to bassoons and English horn and so on. It certainly added to one’s appreciation that every section of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is flawless.
How wonderful to see Miguel Harth-Bedoya’s youthful face look out at the audience as he first entered the hall as if he too was feeling the magic of performance history made in Symphony Hall so many times. His conducting was met with great enthusiasm by the audience.
Hopefully future concerts will allow Harth-Bedoya to bring us performances from the non-profit organization he founded, Caminos del Inka, which you can learn about in this YouTube clip below—
This season of concerts by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra continues in Symphony Center at 220 South Michigan through June. For a schedule, visit the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s calendar online or for ticket information call the CSO box office at 312 294 3000.
Photos: Courtesy of Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Todd Rosenberg, unless otherwise indicated.