Sunday, October 08, 2017

New Jersey Symphony – Xian Zhang, conductor; Jeremy Denk, piano. October 7, 2017.

Prudential Hall at NJPAC.  Orchestra (Grand Tier Seat E5, $36.)

Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43 (1800-01) by Beethoven (1770-1827).
Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 73 (1809) by Beethoven.
Symphonie fantastique, Op 14 (1830) by Berlioz (1803-1869).

This was an unplanned concert.  Anne had commitments at church for the evening, so I found myself with some free time on my hands.  There were scattered seats available when I bought the ticket at around 3 pm.  Indeed today’s attendance was one of the best I have seen for the NJSO – certainly a good start for the season.

Being the season opener, there was a reception at the NJPAC lobby beforehand, so the concert started a bit late.  The 5-minute overture allowed a further buffer in case people lingered a bit too long at the reception.

The Creatures of Prometheus was Beethoven’s only ballet composition.  While popular during its early years, it is now known mostly for its overture and finale.  Today was the first time I heard it.  It helped to settle the audience, and served as a good warm-up for the orchestra.  I am still bothered by the reviewer’s comment that last year’s opener lacked imagination.  In that regard it would have been better to substitute a more contemporary piece.  If that had been done, tonight’s program would have been a grander open than that of The Philadelphia Orchestra.

We saw Jeremy Denk at the Mostly Mozart Festival a couple of years ago, playing a Mozart concerto.  He certainly has garnered quite a few awards (including MacArthur and Avery Fisher), so I wonder why he is not heard as often as some of the other pianists.

It was an enjoyable performance.  My seat, in the last row of the orchestra section, had reasonable dynamics and a good view of the soloist.  The sound came over clearly, and the concerto sounded majestic as it should.  Except for a couple of passages, the balance was great between the soloist and the orchestra.

He played a simple encore.  In the vein of not being able to tell good from bad, I thought I could do equally well.

Jeremy Denk taking a bow.

Whenever I get to listen to Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, I express my appreciation of this pre-concert talk I attended many years ago that explained to me how the “idee fixe” and “dies irae” themes were used in the composition.  With that as background I get even more from each additional reasoning.  Tonight was no exception; it was enjoyable imagining the story told by each of the movements.  The last movement describes Berlioz in a crazed state, with demons and witches gathering for the death scene.  I joked with my neighbor that calling the performance grotesque was actually a compliment.

The orchestra had many extras for this piece.  There were four timpanists (two sets of drums,) four bassoons, two tubas, and two harps.  I also notice Stephen Fang, who used to be associate principal cello, is no longer on the roster.  He was on leave last season.

After performance of Berlioz.

While the performance was generally good, there were some stretches where I wasn’t sure where it was going.  That is only so because my expectations were extremely high.

To my surprise, the orchestra started the whole evening with the National Anthem.  I wonder if that is a new thing, or just something that happens at the beginning of the season.  We’ll find out next Saturday when I will attend a concert in Red Bank.

I was glad to have gone.  I wore a polo shirt, jeans, and sneakers.  And I didn’t feel out of place at all.

Being in the last row also allowed me to get back to the parking lot very quickly, before a line formed to exit the facility.

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