A Passion for Music – Emanuel Ax and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

What drives a composer to write music? A musician to perform? A conductor to lead? An audience to sit through two hours of music?

Passion.

To be passionate about music is a beautiful thing.

As I sat through the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s concert this past weekend, I could not help but marvel at Emanuel Ax’s performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Concerto no. 4 in G Major. Though I was drawn to this famous musician’s skill, I was more captivated by his facial expression and body language. Ax seemed to be one with the music and the orchestra. His intensity, followed by his serene manner, brought life to the concerto.

Did he feel Beethoven’s emotions?

When Beethoven premiered the work himself in public on December 22, 1808 at the Vienna Theater-an-der-Wien, it was under less-than-ideal conditions. There was no heating system in the theater to combat the bitter cold; the orchestra was ill-rehearsed; and the concert lasted hours (four hours or more) since it also included the world premieres of his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, Fantasia for Piano in C Minor (‘Choral Fantasia’), four movements from his Mass in C, and the soprano aria, Ah! Perfido. Yet, Beethoven was determined to push through these obstacles. Today, these particular works are well-known and adored.

Ax was indeed passionate about the piece. His ease with the piano and Beethoven, and clear love for the concerto, left the audience breathless. The audience was so moved, they applauded after the first movement!

Music Director and Conductor Robert Spano was as passionate for Mahler as Ax for Beethoven. Spano’s direction was exhilarating and animated during Gustav Mahler’s Symphony no. 1 in D Major (“Titan”).

Perhaps one of Mahler’s most popular pieces, this thrilling symphony is heavy at times, a little dark, with a bit of lyricism interwoven within its expressions. Think of a thunderstorm at night—the lightening is quick and distant, but the thunder slowly rolls in until it’s above you, then it finally moves away and you are left with an eerie quiet. Suddenly, without warning, the storm is above you again, more ferocious than before. A storm can be unpredictable and confusing, and “Titan” is a bit of that. The emotions of the symphony charge back and forth, and Spano awakened all of those feelings.

The third movement of the work is interesting because the familiar “Frère Jacques” (“Are you sleeping, Brother John?”) is highlighted throughout. Mahler chose this tune for the funeral march of the movement because he thought of the nursery rhyme as a rather tragic piece.

The brass (horns, trumpets, trombones, etc.), winds (flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, etc.) and percussion (timpani, bass drum, etc.) play a prominent roll in this symphony and always receive the loudest applause.

While Ax and Spano were a joy to watch, I realized it takes a certain kind of love not just to perform, but to share a musical experience with an audience. An audience that is passionate about the performance as the musicians themselves.

What about you? Was there a performer you admired or a performance that you found inspiring?

Next Emanuel Ax Performance:
Oct. 8 – 10, 2010
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 4
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Next Atlanta Symphony Performance:
Oct. 14 – 16, 2010
J. Strauss Jr.: Blue Danube
Berg: Violin Concerto
with Julian Rachlin
Brahms: Symphony no. 2
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

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2 Responses to A Passion for Music – Emanuel Ax and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

  1. Ricky G says:

    I know what you mean about the enchantment of an inspiring musical performance. I’ve had several experiences along those lines over the years, while listening to performances ranging from Vivaldi to twangy bluegrass. The most recent happened in August of 2009 at Fenway Park in Boston. It was a sunset concert at the stadium and the stage was in center field, while I was on the outfield grass in left field. All of the grass in the outfield was actually covered by protective sheets of metal. But the thrill of being on the field of a hallowed arena for a musical performance with 35,000 other music lovers while a giant full moon rose past the light towers in a clear sky — it was one of those evenings that folks have now and then, when they know they will remember the moment for a lifetime even before the moment arrives.
    You might look askew at me when you hear who the artist was: Paul McCartney. He didn’t play Bach or Beethoven, although his famous songwriting partner (now dead) supposedly was inspired to compose one of the best-known songs of the century (“Because”) after hearing his wife at the piano, playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. I’m talking about John Lennon, and his spirit was hanging out with the audience in the stadium in the moonlight. The inspiration at the concert could even bring lost friends back together for a couple hours, that’s how magical the music was. I noticed that some of my own lost friends were there, in spirit, and that added to the magic. (Speaking of inspiration, as the old story goes, John heard Yoko playing the Sonata, and was inspired to write “Because.”)
    George Harrison’s ukelele was brought onto the stage at one point as well, a gift to the artist from George himself. It was interesting to notice the way that the former owner’s presence had become part of the instrument. McCartney played “Something” on the ukelele. Just him and George’s ukelele. I never thought you could get such mesmerizing chromatic chords out of a four-stringed instrument until I watched and heard the ukelele rendition of “Something.”
    Of course, Mac played all the old blockbuster tunes, too, the Beatles standards, and that was fun and joyful. But I think the coolest moment was when it was just one voice and one four-stringed instrument and 35,000 people in the audience and a collection of notes and lyrics that will be remembered in the exact proper order for centuries, like Bach’s notes. It’s kind of ironic in a way, how fleeting a musical note really is. It chimes into existence and in a beat, a mere second or two, the note dies away. But the familiar melodies and harmonies echo for centuries, because the human spirit wills it to be so. Music reflects life in that respect. We’re notes that chime only briefly, but the echoes resonate wherever there is a listener with an appreciative memory.
    I enjoy your musical descriptions. Keep up the good work.

    • J.M. Lacey says:

      Great! A lot of musicians today (and decades ago!) are inspired by the composers of classical music and this is a perfect example. Thanks for sharing your unique concert experience.

      And I appreciate the compliment. 🙂

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