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In Performance: Local Reviews

In today's Washington Post: Last night at the NSO: Jun Märkl's Balancing Act, by Anne Midgette.

Edited to add: Here's Michael Lodico's take on the same concert from

By Anne Midgette  |  May 15, 2009; 9:15 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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I certainly agree with the headline and the overall thrust of your review of the concert. I'm not convinced that the playing was a little clumsy. Well maybe a little. The opening blast of the four horns in the Konzertstuck sounded confused and uneven but I wonder how many performances of this work can pull off a perfect opening sound. I thought that it quickly settled down into a fine performance with a very pleasing contrast between the strings and the horns. And maybe Ohlsson did not hit every note perfectly. I thought I detected a flub or two but that did not detract from my thorough enjoyment of a sublime piece of music played sublimely. I am not a fan of Schumann. Maybe it is the clumsiness of the composition you referred to. Whatever reason, I usually think about other things when Schumann is being played. It makes good background music. But last night, for me, it was a fresh performance and I heard elements of the music that I had never noticed in the many times I have heard this over the past 50 years of listening.

I should add a bit of truth in advertising here. I was also at the rehearsal yesterday morning and heard Markl take the orchestra through a few parts a few times until he was satisfied. As far as I could tell, they all sounded the same to me. A more discerning listener might indeed have heard a little clumsiness.

I agreed also with your observations of the almost ballet like conducting style of Markl. Just enough to make it noticeable but not so much that it became distracting or annoying as at least one other performance this past year has demonstrated. But it raised in my mind the question of to whom is that performance directed, the orchestra or the audience. When he is moving his hand down low to indicate, what, softer? Do the performers see that little gesture? Or when he points to the horns just before they blast forth, are they really just sitting there waiting for the finger stab? This is a real question on my part. But my guess is that his gestures are a little of both. And insofar as they stimulate the audience and increase their interest in and excitement by the music, the orchestra responds to this frisson of audience reaction as well, so that in the end, the performance, whether it works or not, is a function of this interplay between conductor, orchestra and audience. And perhaps this is what contributed to my enjoyment of the concert. Even after hearing it twice, I was surprised and pleased.

Posted by: William Kirchhoff | May 15, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

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