David Assemany –
I attended almost every classical week of the 2011-12 Season. I did miss the Classical Roots concert, and I will miss the Saint-Saëns concert next week.
From the outset it was clear that this was not the DSO from season’s past; so many faces gone, so many unknown musicians on the stage. The strings sounded distinctly different, who were all those percussionists, and what is with those cameras?! This was going to take some getting used to.
As the season progressed I got used to seeing the new faces. There seemed to be consistency in who was subbing which was good of course. The string sound filled out, the percussion section sounded good from the outset, the flutes found excellent players to fill out the section. I have always been a fan of Kim Kennedy, and seeing her step up as Acting Concertmaster was nice, as was hearing her in the starring role quite a few times, most notable the recent Wagner/Waxman Tristan and Isolde Fantasy. Acting Principal Flute Sharon Sparrow was her usual spectacular self. Other people who shone when asked to move up in the section included Úna O’Riordan, Cello and Geoffrey Johnson, English Horn.
As a pianist, I always look forward to the big piano concertos. This season had several highlights, one of them completely unexpected; the Conrad Tao concert in January featuring the Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 2 in G-minor. I loved it so much I went back the next night, and then watched the webcast! Conrad is a mesmerizing pianist, with technique to burn and more importantly a soul. He is a young man with quite a career already, and one to watch in the future.
Another unexpected delight was Final Alice by David Del Tredici. I had never heard of the piece, and quite honestly did not expect to love it. I did however love it, once again watching the webcast after attending the concert live the night before. It was a tour de force for the soprano Hila Plitmann, and the musicians got quite a workout as well. There are probably not many conductors who could pull this piece off as well as Maestro Slatkin did.
The webcasts evolved over the course of the season. They were a little rough at first, which is not surprising as they were navigating uncharted territory at every turn. However the Digital Media team led by Scott Harrison and Eric Woodhams quickly became expert at producing an excellent webcast. Kudos guys, looking forward to next season!
The Mix at the Max event in April was a fun departure from the norm. Featuring the Brooklyn-based chamber orchestra The Knights, it included a pre-concert mixer with food and drink from several local restaurants. The crowd was young and enthusiastic. Hopefully this sort of event will bring people to the hall who would not normally attend a classical concert.
A disappointment for me was the reduced season of classical concerts actually performed in Orchestra Hall. Most of the venues that the community concerts were performed in are acoustically poor and even the good ones don’t hold a candle to Orchestra Hall. I hope the ensuing seasons reduce the commitment to the community concerts and focus on getting those people to come to the DSO’s wonderful home stage. How about a free ticket to a concert in the hall with every purchase of a community concert ticket? Busses from the burbs?
On a different topic, I must tell about my experiences as an SOS officer with the DSO administration and staff at the MAX: Going into the season, I saw potential for friction with the administration while we from SOS tried to become more involved in the behind the scenes work of producing ‘world class music on the stage of Orchestra Hall.’ Happily this was not the case. The staff was always polite, professional, friendly and efficient. Upper management, starting right at the top with Anne Parsons, went out of their way to make the SOS Governing Members feel welcome and listened to. Our concerns were not always addressed, but they were always respectfully heard. We were not shy about pushing our way into the daily goings on. Our presence at the hall was always (seemingly) welcomed.
And finally, I would like to extend a big welcome to: Sheryl Hwangbo, violin – Monica Fosnaugh, English horn – Johanna Yarbrough, French horn – Peter McCaffrey, cello – David LeDoux, cello – Yoonshin Song, Concertmaster!