Raymond Leppard, Orion Weiss in an Evening of Beethoven, Mozart and Elgar

If anyone asks me about attending a symphony concert for the first time, whether it’s what to do or what to expect, I simply say lose yourself in the music. Don’t analyze the program, but just enjoy it for what it is, for what’s in front of you. And when it’s a concert like the one given the other evening by the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, it’s easier to close out the rest of the world in a theater full of the best composers and talented musicians.

First on the program was Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770-1827) Leonore Overture no. 3, op. 72b. Here is an opportunity to absorb the woodwinds—the clarinets and bassoons—into your mind and forget everything you left behind at the door. Even the trumpets and trombones are soothing and Beethoven has managed to paint an image of serenity, though the story of Fidelio, from where Leonore comes, has a good versus evil plot that is rather dramatic.

This lilting piece was followed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s (1756-1791) Piano Concerto no. 25 in C major, K.503. This is another piece that is sedative and pleasant. If ever there was a piece to settle jarred nerves, this is the one. (Okay, one of a few, especially Mozart.) His piece is fascinating in each of the three movements. While the second, “Andante,” is relaxing, the third, “Allegretto,” at times seemed like a love song with its sweet, meaningful tone. Toward the end of the exciting movement, it’s as if Mozart had a few final thoughts to squeeze in, yet he managed to finish the conversation with eloquence.

Pianist Orion Weiss. Photo: Leslie van Stelten

If it’s true that performers consider this particular concerto difficult to play, Pianist Orion Weiss put them to shame. He had wonderful precision, and a lightness and ease to his playing. Orion amalgamated well with the orchestra and Mozart’s music, and he was a joy to watch. His fingers simply floated along the keys.

Sir Edward Elgar’s (1857-1934) Variations on an Original Theme, “Enigma,” op. 36, was the final part of the program. The composition has about 14 short variations, and all are dedicated to various friends that were dear to the composer, including his wife, Caroline Alice, depicted in the first Variation.

My favorite variation is number IX (Nimrod), named for Noah’s grandson, the great hunter. This variation was a testimonial to A.J. Jaeger, an avid outdoorsman as well as Elgar’s publisher and friend. It’s interesting that the composer explains how he was reminded of a summer evening conversation with Jaeger on Beethoven, and in particular, the slow movements of the composer, because this variation seems to be in homage to Beethoven. Listen to the Nimrod clip then listen to Beethoven’s Symphony no. 6 “Pastoral,” as an example.

Raymond Leppard

Grammy ® Award Winner Raymond Leppard was also the guest conductor for the evening. In his four decades on the podium, he has conducted nearly all of the world’s leading orchestras, made over 150 recordings, written two books and composed several film scores, including the music for Lord of the Flies, Laughter in the Dark and Hotel New Hampshire. On Friday, he showcased the JSO’s impressive talent in bringing great composers and their music to life.

Overall, it was a delightful concert.

Next Performance by the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra:
March 25 & 26, 2011

Mahler’s Fourth
Barber: Adagio for Strings
Barber: Knoxville: Summer of 1915
Mahler: Symphony no. 4
with
Soprano Barbara Shirvis

Next Performances by Orion Weiss:
March 19 & 20, 2011

Scriabin: Piano Concerto
Reno Chamber Orchestra

March 24-26, 2011
Grieg: Piano Concerto
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

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