Avocets and Hockey
A Montpelier Chamber Orchestra Concert Review
Blogger’s Note: Here’s what happens when a biologist (and hockey fan) reviews a classical music performance.
If you’re not planning to attend the Montpelier Chamber Orchestra performance this afternoon, you will only have yourself to blame because you will miss passion, virtuosity and even a bassoon solo likened to a fart. You’ll also miss other crazy-ass vibrations. To be honest, what I know about classical music isn’t much. But I do know something about wildlife and hockey. So, with that in mind, here’s my review of last night’s MCO performance.
First up: Entr’acte by Caroline Shaw. During this exploration of vibration, you must trust the guidance of MCO’s music director — the amazing and daring Anne Decker. All strings and no holds barred, Entr’acte begins earnestly enough, with a pleasant, melodic phrase — something you quickly come to admire. Then it’s gone — like a departed lover. In her place is something, well, not quite human — arhythmic, soft, percussive, kind of like a zombie you’re not too sure about. And just as you begin to wonder whether your brain is about to be eaten, the strings come to your rescue, gather you up, and sweep you off to safety. (And I say this not because my partner Ruth Einstein is an MCO violinist.) So do not fear the undead when it returns each time during this piece. You’ll be fine. But maybe the most important thing I can tell you is that the conclusion of this composition is so worth the journey because you’ll hear a soloist strum her cello like a harp.
Onward to the Mozart Violin Concerto #4 in D Major. Here Anne gets to step away from the podium and listen like the rest of us as soloist Jesse Irons, local boy made good in Boston, conducts the orchestra with his bow and his body and his music. There’s a lot of fire in this Irons. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist, and hardly my first cliché here.) He hits all the right notes — literally and figuratively. Jesse’s solos — cadenzas — are Mozart meets Miles Davis (with even a bit of improv comedy). And the orchestra is a mass of a thousand American Avocets, dancing and feeding at Bolivar Flats in Texas, energetic and elegant, plucking invertebrates like quarter notes, then launching together in rhapsodic flight. The third and final movement is described in the program as “Andante grazioso – Allegro ma non troppo.” I have no clue what that means, but Jesse and the MCO have got some serious andante-and-allegre mojo going on with old Wolfgang. Standing-ovation mojo.
This piece was like a well-played hockey game … even with a few body blows.
Finally, my favorite of the night: Symphony #93 in D Major by Franz Joseph Haydn. (By the way, it was a damned good night for the key of D Major.) This piece was like a well-played hockey game — methodical, strategic, energetic, a team effort, even with a few body blows. Oh, and that bassoon solo — actually a solo note, that lovely note, meant to be comical, and uttered when you do not expect it. (That Haydn, what a cut-up.) I’m told that the final movement, “Presto ma non troppo,” basically means move it along but not too fast. Sorry, Haydn — MCO broke some rules here. Good thing. The symphony ended like the closing minute and a half of a 2-to-1 hockey game with the trailing team pulling its goalie. (Not like a 5-on-3 power play, which really isn’t fair and is a bit too predictable.) Instead, MCO busted out in a relentless, wonderful, determined assault on tranquility and mediocrity. Like a fan at the end of that game, I was literally on the edge of my seat. And sure enough, in the final moment, MCO scored. Red-light flashing.
If only they could have played overtime.