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Popular moderns at The Shell

Wayfarer loses its way, but Payare keeps focus

Wayfarers are, by definition, outdoor folks. But this is indoor music.
Wayfarers are, by definition, outdoor folks. But this is indoor music.

Mahler and Tchaikovsky are two of the most popular composers for modern audiences. Rarely are they scheduled together on the same concert, but on Saturday, October 17, that’s exactly what happened with the San Diego Symphony at The Rady Shell.

Starting off the concert were two lovely compositions by Lili Boulanger. Lili was the sister of the Parisian music educator Nadia Boulanger. Had Lili lived — she succumbed to intestinal tuberculosis at the age of 24 — she may have become one of the foremost composers of the 20th Century. Both of Boulanger’s pieces, D’un soir triste and D’un matin de printemps, were aggressive in their scale and ambition. They are the final pieces she composed, and worthy of further listening.

Video:

Boulanger's "D'un matin de printeps"

Mahler and his Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen followed. In my opinion, this piece suffered from the outdoor setting. It’s true that the title translates to “Songs of a Wayfarer,” and wayfarers are, by definition, outdoor folks. But this is indoor music. Mahler’s orchestration is, as always, cognizant of the limits of the human voice. He keeps the orchestra under wraps while the singer is singing. It is one of Mahler’s greatest virtues, but the intimacy of this music is lost out of doors.

Video:

Mahler: "Songs of a Wayfarer"

The same can be said for mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung. DeYoung has performed at every major opera house and symphony hall in the world, including the ultra-prestigious Bayreuth and Salzburg Festivals. Yet the size of her voice was lost at The Shell. Also, the quality of her voice needs the acoustic of a hall to help balance the wobble that is present at the top of her range. On the whole, Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer was unable to find its way at The Shell.

Video:

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5

After the intermission, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 was willing and ready to be the singular symphonic experience that it is. First of all, the performance was clean. That is where every professional performance must begin. The orchestra must be focused in order to play this music without any obvious errors. And it’s beginning to become clear that Maestro Payare is a master of focus. Nowhere was that more obvious than during the horn solo that begins the second movement of the symphony. It was focused and crystal clear. The lines of the music were free from any blurring or smudging.

It could be argued that this approach removes some of the innate musicality of Tchaikovsky’s music, but I don’t think that was the case here. There is a thin line between musical pathos and a musical mess. Tchaikovsky’s music is hyper-emotional in and of itself. It doesn’t need to be over-played. Payare made sure the emotion came through, but it came through a lens that was clean and focused.

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Wayfarers are, by definition, outdoor folks. But this is indoor music.
Wayfarers are, by definition, outdoor folks. But this is indoor music.

Mahler and Tchaikovsky are two of the most popular composers for modern audiences. Rarely are they scheduled together on the same concert, but on Saturday, October 17, that’s exactly what happened with the San Diego Symphony at The Rady Shell.

Starting off the concert were two lovely compositions by Lili Boulanger. Lili was the sister of the Parisian music educator Nadia Boulanger. Had Lili lived — she succumbed to intestinal tuberculosis at the age of 24 — she may have become one of the foremost composers of the 20th Century. Both of Boulanger’s pieces, D’un soir triste and D’un matin de printemps, were aggressive in their scale and ambition. They are the final pieces she composed, and worthy of further listening.

Video:

Boulanger's "D'un matin de printeps"

Mahler and his Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen followed. In my opinion, this piece suffered from the outdoor setting. It’s true that the title translates to “Songs of a Wayfarer,” and wayfarers are, by definition, outdoor folks. But this is indoor music. Mahler’s orchestration is, as always, cognizant of the limits of the human voice. He keeps the orchestra under wraps while the singer is singing. It is one of Mahler’s greatest virtues, but the intimacy of this music is lost out of doors.

Video:

Mahler: "Songs of a Wayfarer"

The same can be said for mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung. DeYoung has performed at every major opera house and symphony hall in the world, including the ultra-prestigious Bayreuth and Salzburg Festivals. Yet the size of her voice was lost at The Shell. Also, the quality of her voice needs the acoustic of a hall to help balance the wobble that is present at the top of her range. On the whole, Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer was unable to find its way at The Shell.

Video:

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5

After the intermission, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 was willing and ready to be the singular symphonic experience that it is. First of all, the performance was clean. That is where every professional performance must begin. The orchestra must be focused in order to play this music without any obvious errors. And it’s beginning to become clear that Maestro Payare is a master of focus. Nowhere was that more obvious than during the horn solo that begins the second movement of the symphony. It was focused and crystal clear. The lines of the music were free from any blurring or smudging.

It could be argued that this approach removes some of the innate musicality of Tchaikovsky’s music, but I don’t think that was the case here. There is a thin line between musical pathos and a musical mess. Tchaikovsky’s music is hyper-emotional in and of itself. It doesn’t need to be over-played. Payare made sure the emotion came through, but it came through a lens that was clean and focused.

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