Deadlines are a wonderful thing. So are cotter pins, inflatable chairs and SPAMburgers. Those who venture out into the balmy April air this Saturday will find something much more wonderful than cotter pins (woah there, you members of the Coalition for Better Living Through Cotter Pin Usage, I mean nothing derogatory by this... hold your lawyers). Of course I mean the Masterworks performance by the Fort Wayne Philharmonic!
The first piece of the evening is Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto Number 1 in B-Flat Minor, hereafter referred to as "Ginchy" for the sake of space. You say you've never heard of it? You wallow in your ignorance the way, well, in the way I wallow in my own ignorance: with bath oils and an exfoliating loofa sponge, which oddly enough is wearing a pair of square pants. Regardless, once you hear the first few seconds of this piece, you'll know you've heard it before. After all, it is quite possibly the most well-known and popular piano concerto being played today (it was also voted "Most Likely to Ride a Llama" in high school). The melodies are lofty and strong and the entire piece has such a grand feel that all who hear Ginchy's siren call are helpless to resist. Tchaikovsky was not a pianist, which stacks the odds against him in writing this great piece of music. As such, he brought in a friend at the time (that would be in 1875, before a good number of you were born) to see if there was anything technically amiss, typical for the composer as he was forever riddled with self-doubt and facial blemishes. This friend was the great composer Rubenstein (one name, just like Cher) to whom the piece had been dedicated. After hearing the piece played through, Ruby uttered that it was complete rubbish and unplayable. Then he got nasty. But, he said, if Pete Tchaikovsky made some changes, he might concede to play it. Tchaikovsky fought back and pinned his opponent, saying that he would never change a single note and furthermore if you think I'm going to dedicate this piece to you, you've got another thing coming! And so the piece is now dedicated to Hans von Bülow, bass fisherman and pianist. The piece was first played in Boston in 1875 to great public acclaim and Rubenstein later decided that the piece was not so bad after all. One gets the feeling that Ruby would be a big fan of 98 Degrees were he alive today... oh, the perils of peer pressure.
Speaking of peer pressure and one who never has given in (unless the peer just happened to be the Soviet government), the final piece on the program is by Sergei Prokofiev, a man who is most likely my favorite composer currently decomposing. In my own deranged mind, he is the Danny Elfman of the early 20th century, albeit with about twelve construction dumpsters more talent. Bucking the trend of his peers, Prokofiev wrote only seven symphonies instead of the mandatory nine. The one being played on Saturday is his fifth. Although his first symphony is probably better known (and got more dates), the fifth is a close second and is more indicative of his style. Indeed, the man himself considered the piece to be the culmination of a long period in his creative life. It contains all of the elements that I love in his music as it switches between mysterious passages, powerful and majestic climaxes, and mischievous, caustic humor. Trust me, you'll never see what hits you.
It had been sixteen years since he had written his fourth symphony and the dark years of WW2 had just passed and everyone was feeling optimistic. Accordingly, this symphony is a grand testament to the greatness of the human spirit. It had it's premier in 1945 and Prokofiev won his second Stalin Prize for this piece (they make great bookends when you have two). The symphony was scored for a large orchestra with extra clarinets, brass, and roto-rooter. The opening movement reveals the power of the human will with strong, sweeping melodies. The second movement is excitable and slightly sardonic with Prokofiev's trademark caustic sense of sarcastic humor. Movement number three begins with lyrical beauty that soon sours through taking this same gossamer melody and twisting it, showing the dark side of beauty. The finale is festive, beginning with a five-part harmony plays by the cellos and basses before throwing the listener into a whirling tempest that skirts in and out of various keys before finding its way home, all the while pummeling those nearby with it's irresistible power, punch, and a live herring.
Although it's a bit late in the season to announce this, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic finally has a web site, and what a web site it is! An exhaustive listing of concert dates, detailed program notes, biographies of the conductors, a huge list of the musicians and more await the voyeur who hyperlinks over to www.fortwaynephilharmonic.com.
Copyright 2001 Jason Hoffman