Review: Visiting pianist delivers scholarly, subtle performance
Opening Saturday’s concert, "Medicine Behind the Music," Rochester Symphony Orchestra Conductor Jere Lantz introduced the opening composition, Philip Glass’ Prelude to his opera Akhnaten, with a cheeky alert that, for some, it would be an unsatisfying 12 minutes.
Others, Lantz said, would find the piece’s unfamiliar non-directionality revelatory.
The work is traditionally tonal (major and minor) — thus more accessible than much 20th century fare — built on pillars of sound created primarily by arpeggios (the notes of a chord played in succession), and varied by instrumentation and polyrhythms.
This description is perfect: "Glass livens up the prelude by shifting the metrical feel several times. … At the beginning … we hear repeating groups of four pitches arpeggiating an A minor chord. After 16 groups of four, Glass shifts his grouping to groups of three, keeping the tempo of the individual notes the same. In the second variation he shifts from groups of four notes to groups of six notes while maintaining the same quarter-note pulse. In this way, the listener feels the music speeding up and slowing down."
Featuring the violas, the orchestra offered a fine performance.
Next was Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, No. 8, with its two movements, as the mystery of its incompletion remains unsolved. The performance was well-felt and the beloved melodies expressive.
The second half of this concert was its highlight, as Dr. Richard Kogan, psychiatrist and pianist, played Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2, preceded by his talk detailing the composer’s struggles with (and ultimate triumph over) writer’s block and depression. Dr. Kogan’s charming, nerdy, reserved and thoughtful examination of the intersection of psyche, biography and creative process was endearingly elegant and scholarly.
Not surprisingly, these qualities translated into a deep, luminescent interpretation. Precise in the fastest sections, Kogan’s lack of the flamboyance I’ve seen in other performers of this chestnut was refreshing. His performance was subtle and understated, not overblown — with an almost metaphysical quality, as if he were channeling Rachmaninoff’s psychological victory. It was this work that epitomized the title of the program — "Medicine Behind the Music."
Maestro Lantz’s thoughtful programming and informative program notes usually reflect the program titles and themes to a T. The choice of Glass, and zeroing in on writer’s block (only one possible component of "Medicine Behind the Music"), though well-intentioned, missed the mark, in my opinion. There are so many other worthy works, composers, stories that could have been chosen for this program — Schumann leaps to mind — and its theme easily explored with more breadth and depth, not least because medicine, mental illness/psychology and creativity is an increasingly rich nexus of scholarly, performative and clinical research.
Rochester is obviously fertile ground for this, and I do very much look forward to Maestro Lantz continuing to explore these programs that sync with the Med City. The audience fell upon Kogan after he was done, and I daresay another of his lecture-performances would be eagerly welcomed.
The Rochester Symphony Orchestra and Chorale's next performance will be "MLK and the American Dream," 7 p.m. April 20, 7:30 p.m. April 21 and 2 p.m. April 22 at Lourdes High School. Tickets/info: 507-286-8742, www.rochestersymphony.org.