Held and Gabification

Pre concert

I attended a Philadelphia Orchestra Concert this past Sunday, although it wasn’t on my subscription series.

What happened was they moved my seats for my regular series concert of a few weeks back (the Beethoven Missa Solemnis) from my box seats on Tier 2 to the third row on that same tier, which meant I would have been sitting in and around people—something I’d rather not do, even with everyone vaccinated and mask attired. So, since I’m not particularly fond of that work anyway, one of the few Beethoven pieces that I can say that about, I exchanged that concert for the one this past Sunday, where I could get the same seats as in my subscription.

Sadly, I could manage that because the concert was very sparsely attended, presumably because Stéphane Denève, not a big name, was conducting. A real pity because it was an excellent concert.

It started with the second Liszt Piano Concerto played by Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and played beautifully, I might add. This was followed without intermission by a work by one of my favorite composers, Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben (“A Hero’s Life”), a 40-some minute tone poem about, well, the life of an unnamed hero. It’s a brilliant showpiece for an orchestra, and it was conducted and played brilliantly. I got chills down my spine several times.Nine horns

It begins with a five minute exposition of the hero’s themes, which really put the orchestra’s brass section through its paces. The work calls for eight horns, but the Philadelphians had nine. Then comes a passage that describe’s the hero’s enemies—the enemies are music critics, so wanna guess who the hero is supposed to be? Next comes a lyrical section which paints a portrait of the hero’s companion or helpmate—and here Strauss actually tried to paint a portrait of his wife:

“It’s my wife I wanted to portray. She is very complex, very feminine, a little perverse, something of a flirt, never the same twice, every minute different from how she had been a minute before.” 

This would not be the only time Strauss characterized his wife Pauline in his music. She would also become the model for the Dyer’s Wife in Die Frau ohne Schatten, as well as Christine in Intermezzo.

Anyway, the tone poem builds to multiple climaxes as the hero does battle with his critics, I mean enemies, and there is a lovely quiet passage when the hero works on his peace projects, which is where Strauss liberally quotes a dozen or so of his previous works.

Yep, it was a terrific concert.


This morning I got a pleasant surprise when I listened to the Classical Gabfest podcast. They had a section on listener feedback, and I was one of the listeners from whom they read feedback.

Rather to my surprise, they didn’t read the email that I expected but the one where I mentioned my delight at seeing Kensho Watanabe listed as an assistant conductor at The Hours concert.

They also graciously provided links to my blog in their notes.

Here’s a link to the episode, The UT of H; my mention comes at about 23:16.

If I had had to guess which of my letters they would read, I’d have guessed the one where I gloated for several paragraphs about how I stumped them in their Name That Tune game a few weeks ago. Oh, well, maybe next time.

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