Monday, June 14, 2010

Prokofiev & Grieg & Andre Watts

Pacific Symphony's season finale at the Segerstrom Concert Hall was a "must" for me because it featured Prokofiev's 5th Symphony, a piece I fell in love with in college and listened to over and over again.

It's a complex amalgam of melodic themes intertwined with distinctly 20th century musical idioms, a piece that echoes the folkloric roots of so much Russian music while hinting at influences from jazz and American film music (after all, this symphony was composed in 1944, so it's not farfetched to think that Prokofiev had listened to Gershwin and Copland.) Moreover, this is a work that is profoundly influenced by the experience of World War II in the Soviet Union and dictator Joseph Stalin, under whose murderous rule artists like Prokofiev were always living in fear. As such, there are ominous undertones but also triumphal fanfares subject to a variety of critical interpretations. I had never experienced this piece live, so this was a real thrill!

The other thrill of the evening was legendary pianist Andre Watts performing the Grieg Piano Concerto in A Minor, one of the most popular pieces of latter-day classical music. Watts seemed effortless in his performance, and why not? He probably has played the piece hundreds of times in his long career. That doesn't mean that he wasn't brilliant--he just never seemed to break a sweat!