One of my favorite aspects of Classical concerts is an audience's reception of the music. I've seen it all; boredom, sleeping, edge-of-your-seat anticipation, and complete rapture. Never have I seen an audience respond with such an appreciation for Prokofiev and Schubert as I did last night, and it was truly earned by every musician onstage.
ProMusica is quite simply the place musicians should go to listen to music.
So what made last night's ProMusica concert my favorite classical concert I've seen in nearly two years?
You might think that the most important part of maintaining good pitch would be listening to oneself or even simply having perfect pitch. It's not. Dr. Kathy Jones, OSU professor and ProMusica flutist was kind enough to stick around after the curtain fell last night to talk for a minute, and we agreed that ProMusica's maintenance of incredibly precise pitch comes from the musicians' ability to listen to one another and play the score to each other.
It's similar to the effect Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams could accomplish with time signatures and playing "in the pocket," rhythmically-speaking, and the larger the ensemble, the more difficult it becomes.
When you have great musicians who already know how to play and they also take the time and show enough humility to really listen to their neighboring sections, it pays off with an increase in overtones and volume control.
There are many, many good violinists in the world. However, Vadim Gluzman is an entirely different creature; he phrases pieces of Prokofiev as I have never heard them before and does it all with a grin and his foot stamping out syncopated rhythms like a rock guitarist throwing out noodly guitar hooks.
I've never seen Prokofiev look and sound so rock and roll, especially not on a Stradivarius. It wouldn't have surprised me to see David Danzmayr head-banging on the podium next to him.
So many conductors would be uncomfortable with the level of expressivity Gluzman brings to the stage and the level of dialogue he establishes with the other violinists. Gluzman never turns his back to the other players or stands still to showboat his phrases for the audience - he's there to play with the other musicians and spur them on and encourage their conversation. Herr Danzmayr seems to thrive off of this interactivity.
The best part of their interaction is Danzmayr's ability to keep the whole thing in the corner of his eye and derive more energy from it. He's a circus master with an incredible sense for how to keep the plates spinning in every ring.
Likewise, Danzmayr's take on Schubert is so fresh and dynamic, I thought I was listening to everything from Mendelssohn to Mahler at different points during Schubert's Symphony No. 9.
There's a significant reason the Austrian conductor often features Schubert pieces on his programs. He doesn't just understand them and enjoy conducting these works, he knows how to explain them to an American audience without "dumbing down" the folk rhythms or poking fun at the polka themes. This is his heritage and it's both serious and light-hearted at once.
Audiences have so much responsibility in a performance, whether they know it or not. The energy of an audience can be felt onstage in a strange and wonderful way; performers can feel attentive listeners or the unfortunate void of boredom.
My husband and I sat up in the loge last night, and it was perfect - not just because the Southern's acoustics are so great that I could hear the higher pitches rise and swell upward, but because I could also catch glimpses of the audience.
It was similar to the experience you get from a black box theater, and it translated perfectly. Every once in a while I could notice the way the audience would breathe together; unified in attention, no rustling purses or snoring spouses to diminish the experience.
Simply put, ProMusica's listeners are as exceptional as the musicians, and they made a welcome place for this greenhorn. I'll certainly be back in August for their music at the Topiary Park.