The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra playing in Music Hall never fails to impress. There is really a tangible excitement that builds as you cross the cobblestones. Once through the grand entrance, you step into a lobby filled with people who know more about classical music than you. And that’s where the fun begins.
The CSO’s Friday, January 6 performance didn’t disappoint. The British conductor Sir Andrew Davis led the orchestra through Bach, Beethoven, and someone named Goossens. The second section, the Beethoven, featured renowned pianist Garrick Ohlsson. Imagine your quiet, friendly, elderly uncle. Now imagine your uncle has been a world-class pianist for 50 years and travels the world playing pianos worth more than your house, and you’ve got Mr. Ohlsson.
The Bach piece, “Sleepers Wake,” was short and sweet, about 4 minutes. It was subtle and swelling, and this was the only piece where conductor Davis didn’t almost swirl off the podium at the end with a dramatic flourish.
The banner performance of the night was the Beethoven Concerto No. 3 in C Minor (I’m learning all these interesting things about classical music!). This piece featured Garrick Ohlsson, and it ran about 40 minutes. It was a rollercoaster. If there is any classical music you can really bob your head to, this would be it. As always, it’s a pleasure to watch a master of the craft play with ease a piece that people spend lifetimes attempting.
Ohlsson played the entire piano part from memory, which ran thousands of notes. He played with no frills: calm, collected, and with a measured force as the music demanded. One could get lost in thought watching him. This era of classical music makes me want to put on a powdered wig, wear shoes with a buckle, and go to a grand ball.
The night ended with Opus 62 from Eugene Goossens’ Symphony No. 2. It was a departure from the previous pieces, having been written 150+ years later. What marked this piece was the general calm, flowing melodies punctuated by cacophonous driving. At times, I wanted to sit at a river bank and paint landscapes. At other times, I wanted to invade Poland.
The program describes Goossens’ work as being heavily influenced by World War II, and that is definitely evident. There are striking moments of pure tension, fear, and anger. They are then tempered with hope and release. It was an emotional journey. The brass wreaked havoc on my fight or flight instinct, while the oboe and strings commanded me to persevere and we’d win the fight. Something tells me the audience members who lived through the great war could relate to the depths of their being.
A great night for the symphony. As always, I encourage the reader to step outside of their comfort zone and attend—we can argue about it during intermission.
John David Back is a Cincinnati native who lives and works in OTR. He’s an avid reader and a mediocre writer who loves the experience of art and beauty. Tell him what he should experience and send fan mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.