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Chicago Symphony all-Copland concert with Michael Tilson Thomas (November 6, 2010)

Music Rambling: Chicago Symphony all-Copland concert with Michael Tilson Thomas, November 5, 2010

Last night’s CSO/Michael Tilson Thomas concert was a great chance to hear two relative Copland rarities, his early Symphony for Organ and his late Orchestral Variations (the orchestral version of his Piano Variations, which Thomas, speaking from the stage, said he’d expanded, with Copland’s oversight, to encompass larger forces than were originally available through the Louisville Orchestra, which commissioned it). The opening work was Quiet City, which I also love, but the complete Appalachian Spring closed the concert. Between trying to get over a rotten cold and having a strong allergic reaction to the work – maybe my least favorite Copland, especially that Simple Gifts tune -- I took the option of an early exit before Spring sprung.

The pre-concert talk and mini-recital by the night’s organist, Paul Jacobs, was enjoyable, even if the Liszt “Fantasy and Fugue on Ad nos,” based on a Meyerbeer theme, was a half hour I’ll never get back. The organ itself sure sounded beautiful, and Jacobs impressive, but try as I did to fight it, I kept being transported back to my teenage days and visions of early-70s Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman, which was probably the last time I actually enjoyed the organ. A short Bach a-minor fugue wrapped up, and THAT was more fun.

The CSO under MTT were stunning, and even if I like the Organ Symphony better sans organ (revised and called his First Symphony), what a sound they made together! Christopher Martin (trumpet) and Scott Hostetler (english horn) were flawless and gorgeous in the gentle Quiet City, and hearing the CSO romp through Copland’s thorny (for him) Variations confirmed how much better I like it that way than in the even-thornier sounding piano version. The orchestra makes it easier to actually hear what AC was up to, even if some of his Fanfare fans might simply say he was up to no good.

The best part of the concert might’ve been talking to the young (20-something) couple seated next to me. Before it began, they were acting like a couple of kids before their birthday cake was brought out, excited as could be. At intermission, we talked a bit, and it turned out they are Copland fans, and had come in from Texas (!) just for this concert. They had listened repeatedly to recordings of all the works on the program, and seemed to hang on every note. They weren’t typical dyed-in-the-wool classical fans, at least not yet -- they really couldn’t name the Copland recordings they’d listened to: “I think it was a boxed set on Decca,” he said, she talked about being moved to tears last season by a performance of a work called Carmina Burana, and they didn’t know who the current director is at the Dallas Symphony, their local orchestra that they sometimes hear (I didn’t have a chance to mention that their local Music Director, Jaap van Zweden, was becoming a favorite guest conductor around here). But what passion – and it was hard not to envy them a bit as I thought about my own 20s (and 30s!) and road trips for the single purpose of hearing music. Ahh! Then again, having the CSO in town does make road tripping feel a little less necessary.

Dave Royko

November 6, 2010

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