Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Vienna Chamber Orchestra – Mark Laycock, conductor; David Meier, piano. July 24, 2008.

Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall, Princeton University. Row 1, Balcony Center.


Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58 by Beethoven (1770-1827).

Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 55 “Eroica” by Beethoven.

Our friends David and Vivian told us about this free concert. They were nice enough to get to Princeton early to pick up tickets for us. Good thing they did: there was a long line waiting for returns when we got there at 7:30 pm or so.

The Vienna Chamber Orchestra consists of about 40 musicians (I counted 8 first violins, 6 second, 5 violas, 4 cellos, 3 double basses, oboe, clarinet, 2 bassoons, 2 flutes, 3 horns, 2 trumpets, and a timpani: working from memory, so not completely sure). It is on the small side to play a grand symphony such as the Eroica. The auditorium seats perhaps 1000 people but is surprising intimate, that made the small orchestra less of an issue. They also have done some improvements (like bathrooms on the first floor) since we last visited about 3 years ago. The conductor was “local” but now lives in Berlin.

David Meier is a relatively young man (born 1977). I found his playing to be adequate but not inspiring. He is in some fierce competition though: I heard recently Andre Watts playing concerto No. 1 and Emmanuel Ax playing No. 5 with the New York Philharmonic. It will take Meier a while to catch up with these masters' technique and musicality. Many runs were sloppy, and he used too much pedal for my taste.

The symphony performance was also a bit sloppy. Perhaps we were too close to the orchestra, but oftentimes I would hear the concertmaster or the principals play the notes much more loudly than the rest of the sections, which is a bit disconcerting (no pun intended). Laycock did conduct from memory though. For some reason I am very familiar with the first three movements, but not with the fourth.

One word about the programming notes. They are published in memory of the author, so I don't want to say too much about them. Nonetheless, it reminds me of my college days studying music (actually the Beethoven symphony was one piece we studied) and analyzing the structure of the piece in about the same way. Looking back, it probably was a necessary part of a formal education, but the annotation didn't provide a lot of insight beyond an academic analysis.

The biographical notes of the conductor contains multiple mentions of the word “maestro”. I don't mean to belittle his accomplishments, but the biography certainly reminds me of this Seinfeld episode where the conductor says something like “I know for a fact his (Leonard Bernstein) friends called him maestro”.

The orchestra played as the encore piece Strauss's Blue Danube (what else would one expect?) I didn't realize the piece was that long. Given the late start (probably to find seats for people waiting), we didn't get out until after 10:30 pm.