Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Listz, Golka, Shostakovich & Grams

Dr Desert Flower and I had the pleasure of going to the Phoenix Symphony last Saturday night to hear works by Franz Listz and Dimitri Shostakovich performed.  It was billed as a performance conducted by Christoph Konig, but he canceled at the last minute, and the PSO was able to get Andrew Grams as a conductor.  Grams appearance reminded me of a very young, and more handsome version of my friend Basil from high school.  He did an excellent job conducting, rousing the PSO in passionate crescendos and guiding them through treacherous Hungarian and Russian musical landscapes. Piano virtuoso Adam Golka played the Listz works Concerto No.1 in E-flat Major for Piano & Orchestra, as well as Totertanz.

We first heard Adam Golka play in 2009, and were very impressed.  This year, he seems much more "grown up" and appeared older, but his skillful piano playing was still amazing.  Our Section A row 7 seats gave us a perfect view of Golka's animated & expressive face - though we could not see his hands.  Through the 10s of thousands of notes he played in the two Listz works, I counted 5 notes (3 on the concerto, 2 on the 2nd piece) that disappointed Golka.  You could see his PAINED expression, as if some had shoved a dagger into his ribs a millisecond  after he played the note.  Of the 5, I could only distinguish 2 "perhaps wrong notes", and the other 3, maybe the timing was off, or the attack was not what Golka intended.  The extreme acrobatics, schizophrenic thematic changes, twisted finger contortions, and sweeping dynamic range variations that Listz - a rock star in his own time - wrote into the works was beautifully performed with astounding precision by Golka.  He's a very impressive pianist, and we were delighted to be able to be witness to a second performance by such a talent.  The PSO did a remarkable job as well in the 'dialogues' that Listz built into the works, where wood winds, harp, brass, violins would 'converse' with the piano soloist beautifully.  An extended standing ovation with two returns was enthusiastically given.

After intermission, Grams resumed the performance by marshaling the orchestra better than I've ever seen Michael Christie able to do.  They played Shostakovich's Symphony No.5 in D Minor.  A contemporary of Stravinsky and Prokofiev, Shostakovich was the Rodney Dangerfield of his time, persecuted by the Soviet machine, arrested and imprisoned often, he used to "sleep with a suit case packed next to the bed" so as not to wake up his family when the apparatchik police came in the middle of the night to take him in for questioning - I've always had a liking for the underdog.  Grams used a "gripping" claw-like motion with his left hand combined with a jaw clenched intense burning gaze when he is demanding more volume and intensity from the orchestra he is commanding, and he applied this technique quite effectively, passionately, dynamically with the PSO Saturday night.  From our seats, I was able to see him invoke the 2nd violins and violas to his right, in profile, several times throughout the Symphony No.5, as well as the 1st violins and cellos to his left.  Very effective, and enjoyable was the performance.

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