Our SBSO program for next week is a totally normal orchestra program – a light opener, a pleasant concerto, and a solid symphony. Nothing too hard to listen to. It has the advantage of familiarity – everyone knows these pieces, or at least knows the style and what they can expect to hear. And all of us, the musicians, know this material as well. We’ve all played it before, and all of us own recordings that sound better than the South Bend Symphony will probably sound, so why should anyone attend this concert?
For me it’s all about the personalities on the stage. I’ve played these pieces before, certainly, but I’ve never played them with this conductor, or these excellent colleagues. When we all come together, each with our own musical ideas and philosophies and past experiences, we have the ability to influence each other. We can make something happen on stage that has never happened before – THIS performance of Brahms 4. And it will certainly be a good performance and a good representation of this particular wonderful piece by a great composer – but also there will be something magic that happens. It might be a little hand-off of a phrase from oboe to clarinet or violins to cellos. It might be a particularly heartfelt flute solo. It might be the way the conductor crafts a phrase ending or the way the wind chorales in the 2nd movement cohere in exactly the right way.
That’s why I never get tired of playing standard works, although I love the challenges of newer music. There’s always something new to listen for, or something a little different from the recording. You don’t know going in which orchestra member is going to have a spectacular, special night, and you have to be ready to respond when that magic happens.
If I were visiting in a town where I didn’t know the orchestra, I would happily attend this concert. I like this music, but might not bother to cue it up on my CD player, because what I love about music is musicians. Getting to see 60 real human beings up on stage all working toward a common goal, and all alert for the magic.
Mozart Symphony No. 4
Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4, with James Tocco
Brahms Symphony No. 4
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