|Party preparations for opening night.|
Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, Terrace Theater, Long Beach Performing Arts Center
DAVID J BROWN
|Ernie Ehrhardt (1946-2021),|
the LBSO cellist whose
memory this concert honored.
Out went both the pre-concert talk and the concert interval, on the grounds of minimizing the chance of any infections spread between audience members seated for the former and milling around during the later; in came a pre-concert “party” outside, where the ample terrace of the eponymous theater had plenty of room for food trucks, drinks stations, and seating around fire pits that on such a warm evening were useful more for their decorative, welcoming appeal than any need for actual heating.
The only things to be regretted were the abandonment of printed programs in favor of hovering your smartphone’s camera over a QR code on a small leaflet to access the online notes—a step too far in the pursuit of touchless nirvana—and the necessarily truncated duration of the concert itself. However, for the latter, the LBSO players under their Music Director Eckart Preu more than made up in quality what was lacking in quantity.
|Copland in 1942, the|
year he wrote Fanfare
for the Common Man.
The life of the Afro-English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) had the most inauspicious of beginnings. The illegitimate offspring of a Creole doctor from Sierra Leone—who returned home seven months before Samuel was born and probably never knew that he was to be a father—and the 18-year-old daughter, herself also illegitimate, of a South London farrier, he nonetheless evinced exceptional musical talent from early childhood
This was nurtured by his maternal grandfather, a keen amateur musician. After himself teaching the boy the violin, he engaged a professional tutor to progress his grandson's studies, and by the age of 10 young Samuel was playing, and singing, in his school and at church. At only 15 he entered the Royal College of Music, and three years later gained a composition scholarship there.
|Coleridge-Taylor aged 23, when |
he wrote his Ballade for Orchestra.
Advocacy by Elgar, and more specifically Alfred Jaeger—Elgar’s “Nimrod” in the Enigma Variations—secured a commission for an orchestral work at the 1898 Three Choirs Festival, and the result was Coleridge-Taylor’s Ballade for Orchestra in A minor, Op. 33.
One critic of the premiere, conducted by the composer, called the piece “stimulating, highly coloured” and with “barbaric moments”, while another deemed it “a striking work, [with] a masterful force and half untamed and fiery exuberance that give it memorable distinctiveness”—reactions that doubtless also reflected the Victorian audience’s startled reaction when the young man’s ethnicity was revealed as he strode onto the platform.
The Ballade in form lies somewhere between symphonic poem and an extended scherzo-and-trio, and introducing it to the Long Beach audience last Saturday, Eckart Preu launched the LBSO’s performance with all the energico asked for in the score. The wind and brass attack on the Allegro vivace opening complex of “scherzo” themes, tinged with Dvořákian harmonies, was bitingly unanimous, and no less memorable and committed were the strings' embrace of the romantically soaring dolce “trio” section.
Maybe the Ballade’s themes, however memorable, come around once too often, but Coleridge-Taylor’s claims on present-day audiences could not have been more convincingly demonstrated—and perhaps even more specifically for an American audience, given the startling success of his career not only in England but also in the US, where over three visits in 1904, 1906, and 1910 he wowed both listeners and performers, most importantly as a role-model inspiration for Black musicians of the time. (For the full story, it's well worth watching a remarkable two-hour documentary "Samuel Coleridge Taylor and His Music in America, 1900–1912" on YouTube here.)
|Beethoven in 1812, the year of the Seventh Symphony: |
computer visualization from his life mask.
Everything stems from the slow(ish) introduction—at 62 measures the longest that Beethoven ever wrote—but with its grandiose tonal architecture, emphatic unisons, and multiplicity of rising dotted scales, this majestic poco sostenuto is as much a statement in itself as preludial to what follows. Preu’s forward-pressing control of tempo, and the orchestra’s mastery of rhythmic articulation, brought off this balancing act perfectly, and when Beethoven’s faux-hesitant hints of the main movement’s rhythm finally ushered it in, the fairly measured tempo for the Vivace made it the inevitable continuation of a seamless whole.
The great English musicologist Sir Donald Tovey wrote that “the finale is and remains unapproached in music as a triumph of Bacchic fury”, and for once the LBSO and Preu’s headlong dive into this movement made it really live up to that description. His observance of the exposition repeat, quite rare in performances of this finale, only prolonged the excitement (as the comparable repeat in the first movement also had done), and the orchestra’s machine-gun punch for the final measures triggered an ovation, Preu looking as surprised as he was pleased as the audience on their feet brought him back for a third time. They are back!
Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, Terrace Theater, Saturday, November 13, 2021, 8 p.m.
Images: The Terrace: Todd Mason; Ernie Erhardt: CS Violin Shop; The performers: Courtesy LBSO; Coleridge-Taylor: Goodmusic Publishing; Copland: Fine Art America; Beethoven: Hadi Karimi.
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