14 November 2008

Warsaw Philharmonic @ Penn State's Eisenhower Hall, November 13, 2008

Because sometimes the indie kids like to listen to music that pre-dates record players, I'd like to hand the blog over to my friend Deb for a special guest post on a classical music performance she saw. She knows far more about the genre then I, so take it away, Deb!

So Classical Music is the ugly step-sister on this blog, but sometimes a group – like any other form of music – just gives me such a high that I have to share. So thank you to my Dear Friend Jess for giving me this time and space to share with you one of the best orchestral groups I’ve seen in a long time, and I’ve seen quite a few of them at this point. The Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra is currently on a U.S. tour and happened to stop in State College, PA where I am currently…stuck…as a graduate student. My friend and I, both exhausted from having spent the entire day at a conference joked with each other that we’d fall asleep on each other as we walked in. Little did we know…

We walked in about twenty minutes early – hey, assigned seats mean we don’t need to arrive over an hour early to get a spot on a rail – and we see, and hear, that they are tuning the piano. We turned to each other and said “why are they tuning the piano twenty minutes before the concert?!” Tuning pianos usually takes hours. They manage to finish the upper range by the time the concert was scheduled to begin. Out walks the string section (looking very European…they’re from Poland!) followed by director/conductor Antoni Wit. Wit has no baton in his hand and simply stands on a platform – no music stand in sight. He conducts all four movements of the Seranade for String Orchestra Op. 2 by a Polish composer I’d never heard of – Karlowicz – with his eyes closed turning towards whatever instrument he wants emphasized, using his bare hands to command strength or pianissimo. At times, I could barely tell where the beat was in his conducting. The orchestra and Wit seemed to just know where they wanted to go and didn’t need a steady beat to keep them together. Every bow on every instrument moved in perfect synchrony. I had an orchestra teacher tell us that this was the mark of any great orchestra, where the bows move as if one arm was controlling them all. I had never seen it done so perfectly as it had been done here. I was in complete awe, to the point where the usual annoyance of idiots clapping between movements didn’t bug me as much as usual…not that I didn’t roll my eyes at my friend.

Then, out came Valentina Lisitsa, the solo pianist for the Listz Piano Concerto Number 1. Wit used a score and baton for this one – you could see how annoyed he was to have to do so, though – and Lisitsa pounded away on the keys. Her hands like I said – no wonder the piano was out of tune! I can’t even give her justice here so just know she was pretty amazing.

They play through their final symphonic piece – Brahms Symphony Number 2 – and luckily this time people knew not to clap. My friend and I, tired but amazed at this point were ready to go. Clap clap clap. Standing Ovation (I don’t even think I’ve been to a show where there hasn’t been a standing ovation anymore). Wit walks back … and… what, an orchestra is playing an ENCORE??? If you’re not a classical music person, this is a rarity – perhaps soloists, but a whole freaking orchestra playing an Encore? Okay. So they play something. Clap clap clap, time to go. Wit walks out AGAIN. WHAT, ANOTHER ENCORE??? They play a polka of some sort. I bend down and get my purse while clap clap clap goes on again. AND AGAIN WIT WALKS OUT. ENCORE NUMBER THREE!!! Wit turns to the audience and in his heavy Polish accent says “This is dedicated to your new President Barack Obama.” He turns and proceeds to conduct his all Polish orchestra in playing Stars and Stripes Forever, complete with the Polish flutists soloing. My friend said to me afterwards “can you imagine the flutists playing that in rehearsal and memorizing that, its so American!” We cracked up, we smiled. Something has really changed in the world if a European Orchestra is playing Stars and Stripes forever. They were finally done.

I went home, smiling, quite amused and awed by what I saw.

More info: http://www.filharmonia.pl/start.en.html

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