Image courtesy of The Louisville Orchestra.
Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Opus 55, “Eroica”
By Ludwig van Beethoven
Teddy Abrams, conductor
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents copyright © 2015 Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
It isn’t every day that Louisville audiences are privy to the World Premiere of a Concerto. Such was our luck in Friday and Saturday’s performance of The Louisville Concerto, arranged by Maestro Teddy Abrams. But, I’m going to circle back to that in a few moments. So let’s start with the bookends.
The evening began with Wellington’s Victory, Op. 91, by Beethoven. If you are not familiar with the title of this piece you certainly know some of the themes: God Save the Queen, is counted among them. Considered a musical novelty by many historians, this piece is over the top and lots of fun. I was glad to see that the Louisville Orchestra held true to the staging of the trumpets and drums, representing the battle between the French and English. With a full complement of strings and winds, the orchestration is still very heavy, at least in sound, in the brass and percussion. A lovely selection by the strings and winds is overcome with the use of the ratchet to imitate the sound of placing a canon in position and then the loud and bombastic thud of a bass drum demonstrates the sound and destruction of the canon. Before you know it, the tempo and ferocity of the sounds of war are tempered by a delightful and affirming melody, celebrating Wellington’s victory over Bonaparte.
I enjoyed the piece very much, but I have to say that the tympani got a little too loud, to the degree that you couldn’t hear any other instruments. Perhaps that was the point, if so, well done.
The other bookend was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55, commonly referred to as Eroica. Certainly among the most famous pieces in the Beethoven canon, and our Louisville Orchestra seemed to know each line almost to heart.
As the cello section introduces the theme of the first movement we are suddenly thrust into a series of dissonant chords that makes one think that something has gone wrong, but it has not, as everything comes to a resolution quickly, leaving us wanting more. In the second theme, Marcia Funebre: Adagio assai, the tempo is exactly what the title suggests: a funeral march. Maestro Abrams does a brilliant job of keeping the orchestra moving, while the tempo would suggest otherwise. The Scherzo: Allegro vivace is perhaps the most commonly played movement of the Symphony. Within its 5 to 6 minute time frame, all the instruments have a chance to share in the melody. The Finale: Allegro molto is brilliant in its energy and tonal variations. The Orchestra was certainly up for the challenges presented throughout the Eroica.
So, let’s talk about The Louisville Concerto. I will admit that I went into Whitney Hall with a lot of hope and anxiousness about this piece. Several friends and colleagues were able to hear the piece the day before and provided me with their interpretations and thoughts, but I wanted to go in with an unbiased ear.
Within this concerto the Maestro worked with four collaborators with deep roots in the Louisville music scene: Dani Markham, JaLin Roze, Will Oldham and Scott Moore. If you are not familiar with any of these musicians, do yourself a favor and look them up. Ms. Markham is a former member of the World Renowned Louisville Leopard Percussionists. JaLin Roze is an up and coming rap artist. Scott Moore is a versatile and hugely talented classical violinist, capable of jumping genres. Last, but certainly not least, Will Oldham, stage name Bonnie “Prince” Billy, has been a mainstay of Louisville music and beyond for many, many years.
Our Orchestra and collaborators meet on stage, with Dani behind the drum box, the Maestro yells “…Two, Three, Four”, we are sent into the Concerto. Now, in my opinion, the Concerto, on the whole felt very POPS like, but it very well could fit into a classics performance, save the vocal performances. As Mr. Roze began his rap Ecstacy, I tried hard to understand everything that was being said and unfortunately that established the precedent for the rest of the set as it pertained to vocalization. I could not clearly understand the full lyrics of Mr. Roze’s Ecstacy, Mr. Oldham’s Ease Down the Road or Mr. Moore’s Pharmaceutical Blues. What I could hear of any of them I have to say was pretty darn nifty. There were hooks and riffs that made an orchestra audience collectively bounce their heads to the jam, as it were. Harmonies and chord modulations were rich and lush.
Perhaps the next time the soloists can be placed in such a way that they can see the conductor a little better, as they could be seen looking over their shoulders, making it a tad bit uncomfortable to perform.
Overall, I believe, with some tweaking, this Concerto could go many places and I would be overjoyed if it did just that. I think it was a brilliant effort by an enthusiastic group of talented musicians, young and old, daring to do something different and pulling it off. For that I say give us more, more, more.
Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Opus 55, “Eroica”
October 23 & 24, 2015
Whitney Hall, The Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 W Main St
Louisville, KY 40202
Annette Skaggs is a heavily involved Arts Advocate here in Louisville and freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York Opera and Northwestern University. She has a 25+ year knowledge of the Classical Arts.