Monday, September 14, 2009

Michael Christie delivers lackluster, once again

Much earlier this year, Dr Desert Flower and I bought partial season ticket sets for the Phoenix Symphony. Last Saturday night was Beethoven's 9th Symphony in D Minor. When I got the tickets, I thought - awesome! I'd not heard it sung in German for more than a decade. I used to sing in church choir in Jr High back at OLG in Highland IN, and we sang it in English one Easter Season. I even remember one of the superb California drum corps play it as a closer and play very high in the DCI finals one year when I was in High School. I find it a moving piece when performed well. Sign me up.

So much to my horror and bewilderment, director Michael Christie "packaged" this awesome work of the grumpy & progressively deafened Ludwig Van Beethoven with a first act performance of John Adam's minimalist, discordant, disquieting, somewhat disturbing "On The Transmigration Of Souls". "Missing... Missing... Missing..." was the musical genius that Maestro Edvard Tchivzhel brought to every performance of the Greenville Symphony Orchestra's amazing body of work. "Remember... Remember... Remember..." the joy and anticipation that an evening at the GSO used to inspire. I serious caught myself counting the sprinkler heads and doing HVAC capacity and louvered register velocity calculations in my head (page 270) throughout the 25 minutes of recorded street noise and disjointed random chorus chanting that accompanied the minor chords leaking out of the string section. After a painful 1/2 hour, Mozart's short Ave verum corpus was played quite nicely - a soothing salve and relief.

Then a 20 minute intermission, where the Dr and I sat amoungst the living dead - people who were alive during the Coolidge administration, and who moved at the pace of Galápagos tortoises. They seemed to enjoy the Adam's work, but I think they needed new batteries in their hearing aids.

As the Beethoven piece began, Christie once again proved he does not know how to rally his symphony through a crescendo that has any impact, playing a vast range mezzo-piano to mezzo-forte (sarcasm fully intended). Yes, Concertmaster Steven Moeckel is passionate in his playing, and about 1/2 of the first violins follow his lead, but the rest of the 1st, most all of the 2nds, and all the violas are just marking time until they can finish the night. The cellos and double bases make good statements when called upon, following their principals' leads, but it's pretty rare. The flutes and clarinets are barely there. The brass on rare occasion make a statement, but usually it sounds at least one hill away on a foggy morning.

A blasé Allergo entrance piece, followed by a Molto vivace that was more like Molto patetica. The serene Adagio molto e cantabile actually was enjoyable, and that's when it hit me - the Phoenix Symphony plays melodic, flowing, gentle works adequately, even enjoyably. As the Presto - Allegro assai - Allegro vivace began my hopes to be wowed had been pretty much vanquished by this point. The massive chorus that stood on bleachers erected behind the orchestra did a fine job, proving to me that it is not the venue of Symphony Hall that muffles the instruments inside, it's the director and 1/2 an orchestra that bring an energy & majestic, soul moving quality of a 1972 Pacer to the concert experience.

Edvard and the GSO, we miss you. I can only hope that the Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, Prokofiev,and Mozart tickets we have this season are more enjoyable. Next time, I'll take a flask with me.

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne! - LOL! =)


  1. This is one of the more interesting reviews I have ever read. Thank you for your honesty about the Adams. I am not sure about my opinion yet.
    One one hand music for an occasion like that has very narrow parameters. I felt like it fit. However, music is either interesting or it isn't.
    As far as if the muffled sound is the players or the hall. The sound does change radically from seat to seat. I have found it to be a death sentence to sit underneath the balcony. I have had good luck closer to the stage.

  2. Robert, on the seating, I agree entirely. The newest seats we sat in were just in front of the balcony, main floor, and a vast improvement. Last year, they were 5 rows further back (cheaper seats) and completely killed all dynamic ranges. We're spoiled I guess, after years at the Peace Center in Greenville where it didn't have a bad seat in the place, other than the last 3 rows you froze from the ventilation.

    Hope springs eternal, for the remainder of the season's performances!

  3. I concur Joe -- Adam's piece was horrid. I was accompanied by 5 other people who all agreed. During the intermission we stood outside discussing what we just sat through and had a few passersby overhear our grumbles and agree that it was awful undulating orchestral noise.


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