Last Sunday, my mom and I went to the opera. We have a subscription to the Lyric Opera in Chicago for four operas each season. This year, we've seen Faust, Ernani, Tosca, and this week, it was The Marriage of Figaro. After all the tragedies (and I do love a good operatic tragedy), ending the season with a comedy was so refreshing. I do think that Figaro is a bit long for a comedy, but I drew upon what I learned when I studied the history of comedies in an undergrad English class, and it certainly followed the conventions of the period. The set design was incredible, as it always is at the Lyric, and I thought that the entire production was done well. In particular, I thought that Danielle de Niese was so charming in the role of Susanna, which in my opinion, is the key to a successful Figaro. With a dull Susanna, the whole opera would fall flat.
Before the show, Mom and I had met at Flat Top Grill for lunch. It was our first visit to the new Loop location and it's overall a bit crisper and classier than the other locations I've visited (Oak Park, Old Town, Lakeview). After lunch, we swung by work so I could check my schedule and then at the Starbucks down the block, I ran into my manager. Amanda was so impressed that my mom and I were heading to the opera, something she brought up again a few days later at work. "I always feel so uncultured when I'm around you," she said, which made me feel bad. I never mean to come off as elitist when I talk about going to the opera and the symphony and art exhibits...it's just one of the things I love most about living in Chicago. My mom could never afford opera or symphony subscriptions when I was younger, but I grew up loving classical music anyway, listening to music online (anyone remember MIDIs?), and playing piano and french horn. She also grew up playing the piano, so a love of classical music is something that's always been in me. And she always made sure to take me downtown a couple of times every year to see different exhibits and museums. My favourite was always the Art Institute, and that's still my favourite Chicago museum.
So I apologized and tried to say that I didn't want her to feel awkward about it, and she said it was fine, so it wasn't really an issue. And then I went to the symphony last week, too. Ha.
Mom and I usually also go to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Sundays, five times a season for that subscription, but I was out of town for our January date, so we switched to something we thought we would like better, anyway. I'll start with the not-so-great: The second piece on the program on Friday was Shostakovich's 11th Symphony. What I've learned about Shostakovich is that is his first ten symphonies were Mahler-influenced, and I guess those are the ones that I like a little better. The 11th, however, is very Soviet. Verrrry. Soviet. I love loud orchestral music, but this was loud and monotonous and I just wasn't crazy about it as a whole. Plus it wasn't the best performance, either. I heard quite a few wrong notes from the brass section, and as a brass player, I can recognize how difficult the parts are, so I understood...I just wasn't crazy about the symphony. Ah well, the afternoon really wasn't lost, because the first piece more than made up for it.
As a skating enthusiast and photographer, I hear excerpts of Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto often. Every season, it seems that someone prominent skates to it, sometimes more than one person, and that doesn't include all of the younger kids who often select music because they saw someone famous skating to it once. So there's a lot of Rach2. I've never disliked it, and I do own it on a CD, so I would have said that before Friday, I liked Rach2. However, after Friday, I love Rach2. Hearing it live made a difference, as did being able to watch Kirill Gerstein play it. What incredible technique it requires, and what genius it took to compose! I was in awe.
We sit in the terrace, behind the orchestra, facing the conductor. I love sitting there because our seats are just over the horn section, and it feels like I'm sitting inside of the music the way that I did when I was a music major. At times, the richness of the concerto's score actually overpowered the soloist, since the piano was opened to face the rest of the hall, not the terrace. It was exhilarating, because I knew the piece well enough to know what it must have sounded like out in the house.
Before hearing Rach2 live, I might have put it on a top-ten list of my favourite concertos. After hearing it live, though, I think it's on my top-ten list of favourite orchestral pieces. In fact, I even came up with a list of what might be my ten favourite orchestral pieces. The list is subject to change in case I forgot something amazing, but for now, it's something like this:
#1: Wagner - "Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde"
Berlioz - "Symphonie Fantastique"
Tchaikovsky - "1812 Overture"
Mahler - Symphony No. 2
Rachmaninoff - Piano Concerto No. 2
Mozart - Horn Concerto No. 1
Gershwin - "Rhapsody in Blue"
Stravinsky - Firebird Suite
Brahms - Symphony No. 2
Beethoven - Symphony No. 6
Honourable mentions, because I love cheesy programmatic stuff:
Sibelius - "Finlandia"
Williams - "Olympic Fanfare and Theme"
Copland - Rodeo Suite