Sunday, April 17, 2016

Reflections from the April 10th Kansas City Symphony Performance

May 15, 1934, From Charles Martin (Martin worked at a bindery that did some work for Charles Ives).
Dear Mr. Ives,
The writer mentioned to Mr. George Gershwin that we were doing some work for you, and he said he was very much interested in your compositions and would like to meet you. Mr. Gershwin lives at 134 E. 72nd Street, and his private telephone number is Butterfield 8-7797. The writer feels sure that he would be very glad if you would get in touch with him.
Yours very truly,
Charles Martin

In response, Charles Ives wrote these comments in free hand on the letter;
"Mr. Martin came in later in the year I think when we were at 164 (meaning 164 E. 74th Street, his home address) and said that he was sorry that I didn't call G (Gershwin) said my music has been a help to him - had known it from several years back. Bill Verplank told me, shortly after I left the office, that Geo Gershwin telephoned. Bill answered for me-said Gershwin said he had gotten more out of my music than any other, especially new chords and new rhythms and that he wants to ask about more copies etc...and that it had been a great help to him."

I was not able to attend the Saturday evening performance of the KC Symphony last weekend... my usual night...because I had made plans to go to my friend, guitarist John Svoboda's, house for an in-home performance by Truckstop Honeymoon. So I went to the Sunday afternoon performance instead. I bought a ticket in the choir loft, behind the stage. I really like sitting there as it offers such a unique perspective. I don't think the sound is bad there either, so it's a win if you ask me. The program was one that I had been looking forward to for quite awhile...Debussy, Gershwin, a world premiere by David Ludwig, and Ives. This concert was billed as a "World Tour from Gershwin to Debussy." My mom had been to the Saturday performance and raved about it. I also read Libby Hanssen's review of the Friday performance in the KC Star. (Please remember, I said in my very first entry of this journal that I am not a music critic, and I am not going to criticize the musicians or a critic for that matter.) She had good things to say about everything except the Ives.
Debussy is probably on my list of top five composers, and his "Iberia" is the second of three orchestral works from "Images". The orchestra created a wonderful wall of sound that washed over us. And inside this wall is the precise inner beat that keeps it all together. It was especially fun to watch Maestro Stern keep it all together.
The premiere of David Ludwig's Concerto for Orchestra was a treat. As Miles Davis said, classical music is "dead shit"....Well, Ludwig's concerto proves that classical music is still alive...fresh and new. His wife, Bella Hristova, wrestled this gator into submission and did so with amazing touch and soul. Her intonation was spot on and her sense or rhythm, a central element of the piece, was "right in the pocket", as our jazz friends would say. I thought is was a blast. And for you purists...I did not mind a bit that she had the music on a stand in front of her.
I started this entry with the letter above because I think the genius of this program was the Ives-Gershwin duality. Everyone knows Gershwin...and I think loves him....because, well, because he is Gershwin. As Ravel told him when Gershwin commented that he wanted to be like Ravel, "Why would you want to be a second rate Ravel when you are already a first rate Gershwin"..or something to that effect. Iconic. Fun. American. "An American in Paris" is always a treat. What an enduring staple of the repertoire it is. Three saxophones on stage pretty much guarantees a good time. Principal trumpet, Julian Kaplan, was sharp and precise. He is a clutch player that will be fixture, I predict, in the KCS for many years to come. And of course Noah Geller, concertmaster, played several solos beautifully. As for Stern, let me just say this...I was once on a flight from KCI to Atlanta. It was late in the day and we seemed to be the only airplane going anywhere. The pilot came on and said we were the only ones in line for we go! He turned onto the runway and hit the gas without coming to a stop and we were immediately flying down the runway. Maestro Stern came out for the Gershwin, jumped up onto the podium and gave the downbeat in much the same way. Fun stuff.
So as recognizable and comfortable as Gershwin's music is, Ives' music lives in a different place. This was the piece, his Symphony no. 3, that I was looking forward to the most. And the piece I felt hit me the hardest on this particular afternoon. Hardcore classical music people recognize Ives' brilliance and importance as a uniquely important American composer, but I don't think most people feel that way. His music can be very challenging in terms of dissonance, form, tonality, meter and construction. I'll bet if you asked 100 composers to voice a C-major chord, Ives would find a way to do it unlike anyone else.You'd scratch your head thinking..."that kinda sounds like C-major...but why does it feel so different?". That's Ives. The first time I played "The Unanswered Question" (I am a violinist you may recall) I found I was fighting back tears. At that moment, the first reading of it, the opening chord...with strings playing a very high, soft G,'s so simple and beautiful. The first several bars are gorgeous. Then the trumpet enters and asks a question. I knew then and there that Ives was a composer I would appreciate and yet be challenged by, forever. And I felt like the KCS played it with energy, vigor and passion.
My Sunday was a treat. Wonderful music, incredible musicians, world class venue, and I will say the bar in the lobby makes a very good gin and tonic at intermission.

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