I Am Sitting In A Room

Commentary and thoughts on (mostly) classical music.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Symphony Program Titles

Two of the Houston Symphony’s concerts during the last month or so of the season are titled “Flor Conducts Mozart” and “Symphonies in C.”

Innocuous enough, if not very informative. In each case, you have a vague sense of what the evening will offer: at least two works alluded to by the title and something of equal or lesser weight to round out the program. But in each of these cases the marketed title ignores the music of greatest interest on the program and misrepresents the concert to ticket buyers.

The only Mozart Flor conducted was a piano concerto - and note also that the soloist, Anne-Marie McDermott, did not receive headline billing. The remainder of the concert was a Symphony funèbre by Joseph Kraus (a near exact contemporary of Mozart’s and a pretty interesting and original composer in his own right) and Shostakovich’s 15th Symphony. Surrounded by this music, Mozart’s buoyant K. 414 concerto seemed out of place – and certainly not the central work of the evening. In fact, the first night of the weekend, the Mozart came off worst. Shostakovich had clearly received the bulk of the rehearsal time and McDermott was still figuring out what level of projection she needed for the hall.

Hidden on the “Symphonies in C” program are two Clarinet Concertos – one of them a world premiere. Yes there are two Symphonies in C (Mozart #34 and Bizet), but isn’t the story of the night the commissioned concerto by a local composer –
Richard Lavenda, who is on faculty at Rice Univ. – performed by the Symphony’s principal clarinetist? Rename the concert “Houston Pride” and see if people don’t turn out in greater numbers just out of curiosity.

Greg Sandow – consultant, critic, blogger & cool kid – shows us the greener grass with his titles for the St. Louis Symphony’s 05/06 season. (Thanks to Alex Ross for the link & 411 on Sandow’s involvment.) “Light in the Darkness,” “Radiance,” “Joie de vivre,” “Layers of Purity.” That piques my interest and makes me wonder what’s on the program (the programs themselves are pretty intriguing, too) . It makes me look more closely at works I might otherwise dismiss as familiar or not of interest in order to unpack the thematic connections. That’s poetry, man.

A few dozen more Sandow’s out there would be a very nice thing. Great work, Greg.


At 6:32 PM, Blogger jason said...

Alex also mentions the use of "Radiance" as a title for Mozart Magic Flute Overture, Feldman's Coptic Light & Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. Imagine someone normally disinterested or hostile to new music finding a way into Feldman's work because the evocative title reset his frame of mind. If these titles are half as effective as we think they could be, Sandow should get an ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award.


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