Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Night Out With Doctor Atomic

Last night I took Mrs. Old Skool for a night on the town to listen to the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, and experienced quite a musical treat.

The evening started with a recognition of a local music teacher and a quick piece played by her third grade violin students See photo). I can't imagine being that young, standing there on the stage of Powell Hall, with a practically full house to play to. What a surreal experience that must have been for them, and they sounded great.

So, sorry, I'm going to sidebar here. The story has application to the Symphony performance, so we'll circle back to that soon. A few years ago I saw the Flaming Lips for the first time. It was in a tent, at SXSW, and I was about three feet from them. It was the first night of the festival, and little did I know how that performance would be the best of the nearly 5 days and nights of musical gluttony. It was a great experience, but we had peaked way too soon, still disoriented from landing on somewhat foreign soil, priming ourselves for a barrage of BBQ and Lonestars, not realizing that we were about to be blown completely away in a matter of hours, instead of days.

And so it happened when i heard the first piece of the night, 'Rapture' by Christopher Rouse. The best musical experience is when you know nothing about an artist, and you get completely blindsided with something you never expected to be so good. And man, I like me some 'Rapture'. Starting out sounding like Sigur Ros, and changing into a kaleidoscope of a joyous lost movie soundtrack, with some driving percussion, that was a complete surprise.

The next two pieces were enjoyable, but I was still thinking about 'Rapture', to tell you the truth.

The final featured piece, John Adams 'Doctor Atomic' symphony, was last on the bill, and the piece has somewhat become synonymous with the orchestra. They hosted the American debut of the final piece in 2008, and the composer dedicated it to conductor David Robertson. And the weekend concerts were warm-up as the symphony loads up the Econoline van and takes these pieces on a California tour. It's a modern piece without being a dissonant dose of 'it's good for you' medicine. The flow tells the story of the first testing of the atomic bomb and is lyrical enough for even this classical novice to follow along with.

The whole night was also part of the Saint Louis Symphony 'blogger night', bringing together disparate musical tastes and giving us the privilege to experience world-class music, to expand our range a bit. It's a great way for them to reach out and remind us that there are many forms of great music out there, and any one of us is welcome to join them.

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