The highlight of yesterday’s family outing was the Kansas City Symphony. It was an unorthodox program, explained by music director Michael Stern as having a commonality of pushing boundaries.
First we had Jean-Féry Rebel’s Suite Symphonique from Les éléments. At the outset, it was a surpisingly dissonant piece for the high baroque. Lots of energy, though. An enjoyable listen.
Wu Man (http://www.wumanpipa.org/) soloed on two nice pieces, a concerto for pipa and strings by Lou Harrison. Local composer Zhou Long’s King Chu Doffs His Armour concluded the pre-intermission music. I enjoyed the Harrison concerto a bit more than Zhou Long’s piece. I’m less familiar with Harrison, so his music was a pleasant surprise. As a composition, I thought it held together better and incorporated/integrated the pipa more smoothly.
The pipa itself is a fascinating instrument, very much like a lute in terms of technical skill as well as the range of sounds. More bending of notes than Western lutes, but a pleasing sound, definitely. Ms Wu graciously autographed my daughter’s ticket at intermission.
It’s been almost thirty years since I’ve heard a live performance of Holst’s The Planets. I listen to my cd once or twice a year. As is often the case, a live performance gives me new insights. Some of the subtleties of the Venus, Saturn, and Neptune movements, and particulary the solo instruments, the harps, celesta and organ: I caught them.
Michael Stern said that while The Planets is a popular piece, it has a depth that he, as a conductor, enjoys exploring each time he hears or leads the piece. As a listener, I concur.