I swear I could hear the bows on the strings.
The Mainly Mozart Festival has gotten underway and now it’s almost over. The festival concludes on Saturday, October 24 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
On opening night, Saturday, October 17, the event was sold out for Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons. The pieces were intertwined. The orchestra performed Vivaldi’s “Spring” followed by Piazzolla’s “Spring.” Then Vivaldi’s “Summer” followed by Piazzolla’s “Summer” and so on. I think I would have rather heard Piazzolla’s piece played straight through and then the Vivaldi.
Tuesday night, October 20, felt like a proper concert. The night opened with Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, followed by Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 3, and then Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8.
I must admit that this was a bitter-sweet experience for me. It was sweet because it was a great concert. It was bitter because I yearned to have the true Mainly Mozart experience.
The performance of the Prokofiev was great, but the sound balance, as was the case for the entire evening, was dominated by the strings. I swear I could hear the bows on the strings. I heard details in the string section, that are usually in the background, front and center while the woodwinds and brass were playing in the distance.
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 8 / Berliner Philharmoniker
Herbert von Karajan, conductor
To their everlasting glory, the strings were flawless. I could hear them attack every phrase because of the soundstage and it was stunning. That was sweet.
The bitter side was that the soundstage created an often harsh quality to the strings that doesn’t exist in a concert hall. I found myself creating a mental concert hall and trying to place the sound that was coming through the speakers into the Balboa Theatre.
It sounded as if there were a volume leveler in place that made all the dynamics the same. That could be a necessary measure given the outdoor circumstances, but it was part of the bitter side of the experience.
Following the Prokofiev was Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 3 in which Andrew Bain of the LA Philharmonic played the solo. Bain is horn-famous for having performed the horn solos in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. During the first movement cadenza, Bain slipped in a hint of the Luke Skywalker theme. Mozart would have loved it.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 is one of my favorite pieces of music. It’s on my morning playlist and I listen to at least the first movement almost every day. Beethoven’s music is full of optimism and joy so why not start my day with that?
During the performance, I forgot all about the circumstances and was taken into a world in which anything is possible and every obstacle is overcome. As we came to the final movement I waited with anticipation. This was the moment of truth. I would either be elated or disappointed.
Here’s the thing with the finale of Beethoven’s Eighth: it must be played at break-neck speed or it sounds like death. It’s a tough situation. The conductor and orchestra must risk killing themselves with the tempo or sounding like a slow descent into the grave.
Michael Francis came through with the proper tempo. I felt ashamed for doubting the acumen of Maestro Francis and the Mainly Mozart Festival Orchestra. They are the gold standard.