If bad things come in threes, do odd things come in twos?

It was an interesting juxtaposition of concerts for me this past weekend.

On Saturday, the Surrey Mozart Players returned for our second visit to the Menuhin Hall. Our concert last year was the source of grave trepidation because we had no idea if our regular audience would follow us there and it is a very expensive hall. However, we got a decent crowd and the orchestra so enjoyed the venue we decided to return. This year we took a tiny bit of a chance on repertoire, unknown Kodaly and Haydn, who should be box-office but usually isn’t, to balance out the ever-popular Schumann Piano Concerto (which shouldn’t be popular but is, in spite of the fact that it is so inward looking).

To our delight the whole thing was sold completely out. Say what you will about playing well, or working with great people, or getting better, but it is nice to know that you’re having to turn people away from your concert. We all arrived at the hall in high spirits, and the auditorium is so gorgeous that you can’t help but smile when you enter, but as the start of the dress rehearsal approached, the vibe began to get a bit tense.

We were scheduled to start with Schumann, then carry on to Haydn and Kodaly, but as of three minutes before the downbeat, there was no soloist in sight, and the Schumann doesn’t have a five minute tutti to start. I quickly announced a switch to Haydn, which fortunately has the same instrumentation (although it’s a pity to rehearse a symphony behind a piano), then ran off while they tuned to catch the stage manager and ask him to call our soloist. I’d never had a soloist be late for anything before, let alone a dress rehearsal and was getting very worried. Fortunately, at the end of the first movement of the Haydn, the manager told me he’d reached Bobby and that he was only minutes away. No worries- Britian can pose insurmountable travel problems (I was late for a dress rehearsal of Lancashire Chamber Orchestra a few years ago because of a huge traffic accident, but at least I knew I was okay and would be there!), but it was a strangely unnerving way to begin.

Fast-forward 24 hours and move north to Altrincham, and at 2:25 I was just about to start the Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto with Lancashire Chamber Orchestra, when I realized there was no soloist in sight….. Is this a cosmic joke? I wondered…. The G major allows even less time for the conductor to stall, and in this case, we couldn’t switch pieces because we were scheduled to start with the 2nd Movement, which only uses strings. Georgina, our manager, tracked our soloist down on the phone, again, he was only minutes away, but the fact that this happened on back-to-back days having never happened in all my career was a little spooky. Anyway, I used the time as best I could until he was able to join us. 

Amazingly, the LCO concert also turned out to be sold out, which was very good news for the orchestra, who have worked really hard to rebuild their audience in a new venue.

Maybe it was just sleep deprivation and road weariness, but I finished the weekend unable to stop marveling at the uncanny parallels of the two evenings. Both concerts went very well, but in both cases I felt they got better and better as they went on, culminating in really memorable performances of the two symphonies’ finales.

And this made for the final odd comparison. Audiences are always more demonstrative when there are many of them, and it’s never a surprise to get an unusually boisterous reception for  a Beethoven 5, but the Haydn at Menuhin Hall got just as enthusiastic response as the Beethoven, which isn’t supposed to happen. I’ve noticed this in the past few years- audiences seem to be “getting” Haydn as they never used to. Perhaps he’s the perfect antidote for the rather depressing drone of our modern media culture- enlightened and enlivening in a world of manipulative, mendacious drivel. Perhaps his effortless sophistication and limitless invention, not to mention his dangerous wit is particularly needed when we’re all bombarded at every corner by music that is equally drained of any hint of those qualities. I’m telling you, he’s James Bond, Richard Pryor and Bach all wrapped up in one. 

I am reminded that I fell in love with the music of Pops on a contemporary music concert. One of his piano trios was the only pre-20th C. work on a five hour concert that included Schoenberg, Messiaen, Bartok, Ligeti, Stravinsky and five premieres. The Haydn sounded the most modern by far- his clean lines, gleaming textures and razor sharp edges stood out like a Le Corbusier building in a neighborhood of brown cottages.

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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4 comments on “If bad things come in threes, do odd things come in twos?”

  1. Kenneth Woods

    BTW- My next SMP concert ends with Beethoven 5 and my next LCO one with a Haydn….

    Seriously, it’s not that I’m running out of ideas. I actually think it will be fascinating to look at the Beethoven afresh after just a few weeks.


  2. ComposerBastard

    In the theatre world, all actors – regardless of role – need to be in the theatre 1 hour before curtain and cannot leave under any condition else the stage manager will make your backside red (not mentioning AEA penalties). So, why was the soloist not in the hall at an appropriate time (reporting to who – orchestra manager, stage manager)?

    Egads more beethovenhoppen – Can we move on to some Bruchner now?

  3. Guy Aron

    I quite agree re Haydn. I heard a couple of his piano trios on the BBC the other day via streaming audio, wrapped around the Mozar t B flat trio – all terrific works. The Haydns surprised me as I had dismissed them as somewhat embryonic examples of the genre, but they stood up to the competition very well. Trio Goya was the ensemble & they did good. I have most of his symphonies, several operas & the piano sonatas at home on vinyl (Dorati & McCabe respectively) which I must put onto minidisc. Not to mention my father’s collection of the string quartets, & a few masses & The Creation & The Seasons. A desert island composer?

  4. Kenneth Woods

    Hey CB–

    It’s a slightly different world in Britain. The country’s entire transit system is constantly on the verge of collapse. The day I was late for LCO I would have gotten there over 3 hours early on any normal day leaving when I did, so it is hard to know when to be cross and when to be understanding. Sometimes there really is nothing you could have done, but, err not always…


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