It’s been ten months since my last visit to Symphony Hall in Boston, Massachusetts.
When I was browsing the season schedule (2015-2016), I was excited to see that Mozart’s Flute and Harp Concerto was going to be performed by principal players, Elizabeth Rowe (Flute) and Jessica Zhou (Harp) with Stravinsky’s Petrushka to end the night.
What was different about this program was something new. A Causal Friday.
According to a press release by the BSO, this program is designed to make concerts more affordable and accessible to the younger generation. Tickets range between $25-$45. In my opinion, you can’t beat that bargain!
But, there is more. The program includes a free pre-concert reception for all attendees. The program also includes one free drink and a free buffet of selected food (Chinese, Salad, and others).
Members who bought tickets near the rear of the hall (orchestra level) were able to access tablets – provided by the BSO. In these tablets, audiences were able to listen up to 11 podcasts which include interviews with the soloists (Rowe and Zhou) and the conductor (Francois-Xavier Roth), as well as PDF’s of the music scores. TV screens were set up in the back of the hall for technology users to view the conductor up close during each performance of Mozart and Stravinsky.
Audience members were invited for a post-concert reception to interact with BSO Musicians with snacks, live music, and a cash bar.
After waiting for a family member to arrive at Symphony Hall, we were greeted by an usher, and we received a voucher for a complimentary drink. After drinking and socializing, we were ready to hear some great music.
Mozart Harp and Flute Concerto – Mozart composed this duo concerto when he was twenty-two years old (yes, he was that successful in his twenties). In 1778, He arrived in Paris and met a flute player whose daughter played the harp. Though the harp was still being developed, Mozart received a commission to compose a piece that would combine the Flute and Harp. This piece is described as “infallibly accurate and incomparably vivid with the combination of these two instruments and harmonies .”
In the live performance, I had a hard time listening to Ms. Rowe since I was sitting in the back. Zhou, on the other hand, played exceptionally well, with even rhythms and boastful expressions during each movement. The symphony should have mic Ms. Rowe since the string section was drowning her sound. It’s understandable that the soloist and the musicians needed to change and set up quickly right after the concerto, nonetheless, using a microphone for Ms. Rowe would have made the live performance spectacular.
The video below was not part of Friday’s performance.
Stravinsky Petrushka – Stravinsky composed this masterpiece in 1910-1911 and revised in 1947. This piece is one of three ballets created by Stravinsky and choreographed by Michel Fokine. Vaslav Nijinsky performed the character Petrushka at its premiere in Paris.
The BSO played the 1911 version – where the piece calls for four flutes (3rd and 4th doubling piccolo), four oboes (4th doubling cor anglais), four clarinets in B-flat, (4th doubling bass clarinet in B-flat), four bassoons (4th doubling contrabassoon), four horns in F, two trumpets in B-flat (often doubling piccolo trumpet), two Cornets in B-flat and A, three trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, two snare drums (one offstage), tambourine (tambour de basque), tenor drum (tambourine) (offstage), triangle,tam-tam, glockenspiel, xylophone, piano, celesta (2- and 4-hand), two harps, and strings.
In the story of Petrushka, the scene takes place in St. Petersburg, Russia in the 1830’s. The first scene takes the audience to a festival, where civilians are celebrating the day before Lent. Drunk men make chaos during the beginning of the place while dancing girls simmer the high-energetic mood.
After painting the celebratory setting, a magician stops the crowd with a puppet theater behind him. He takes out his flute and starts playing to the crowd – casting some spell. In the puppet show, the magician carries three creatures – Petrushka, who is awkward in appearance, limps when he dances, and an unattractive figure; The Ballerina, and The Moor, who is a handsome Turkish man. After the magician stops playing, the puppets come the life and start dancing.
The crowd is amazed and flabbergasted by the performance. After the puppets finish dancing, the dolls are placed back into their rooms, or in the case, cells.
The scene changes to Petrushka’s room as he is kicked or thrown in. He picks himself up and dances sadly, reflecting his poor appearance. He falls in love with the ballerina and wants to impress her. As she enters his room, Petrushka is beyond excited and dances with joy. But when the dancer sees that he dances out of control and inelegantly, she flees. Petrushka is upset and puts his ear against a wall to hear what the Moor is doing.
The audience takes a journey to the Moor’s room (the third scene). The Moor plays with a coconut and believes that it is a god after failing to cut it with his sword. Then, the Ballerina steps in and professes her love to the Moor by playing trumpet and dancing. After, they waltz and become fond with one-another. With Petrushka listening in the next room, he is furious and storms into the Moors room. The jealous Petrushka interrupts their dance. He and the Moor get into an altercation, and the strong, powerful Moor throws him out.
The final scene takes the audience back to the festival. Some time has passed, and now it is early evening. Dancing still takes place, but, a peasant comes into the scene with his dancing bear, followed by a group of gypsies and masqueraders.
As the scene reaches is the last peak, a cry heard from the puppet theater. Petrushka runs out of the theater and is chased by the Moor – the with Ballerina following behind him. The Moor stabs Petrushka with his sword – killing him. The crowd stops and is stunned by what happened. The Magician returns and shows the group that these were only puppets. The crowd disperses and so does the magician – carrying Petrushka’s “Dead Body.” After the scene goes silent and dark, a ghost appears in front of the wizard, and it seems to be Petrushka. His ghost haunts the magician as he runs away – making the audience question if these puppets were real or not.
Review – This piece performed in excellence by the BSO. The symphony greatly executed different characterizations of each scene and each character. Ms. Rowe’s solo carried out with high pace and expression. Robert Sheena (English Horn) created a mysterious atmosphere in each movement. Thomas Rolfs'(Trumpet) Solo was a gem to hear. The percussion section gave great rhythmic energy and character to this piece. In conclusion, this was a great piece to end.
The BSO is providing two more Casual Friday evenings on February 12th and March 18th. February’s program includes pieces by Haydn, Hartmann, and Beethoven. March’s program will feature pieces by Higdon, Williams, and Saint-Saens.
These Casual Friday concerts are an experiment for further analysis after this season ends. Though I was not a participant of the I-pads, I think this new feature program might bring in a younger demographic. Though crowds almost sold-out, it might have cost the symphony a lot to cover food and beverages, plus I-pads, and other expenses since Fine-Arts performances do not make a lot of capitols. These concerts a good idea for the symphony to pitch and try something new to grasp younger people. Technology has grown at a rapid pace. The question is, though – individuals are already distracted with media. Do we need new media in performances? We will see if the BSO plans to use this kind of program next season, or even at the POPS or Tanglewood.
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