Friday, November 9, 2012

Concert Review: RPO: Copland, Bernstein, and Tyzik

Posted by on Fri, Nov 9, 2012 at 9:47 AM

Last night's concert by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra with conductor Jeff Tyzik was fabulous, and you shouldn't miss the program when it is performed again this weekend. The concert had all the right elements: a cohesive program, modern American composers, an amazing soloist, a world premiere work, and Tyzik at the podium with the RPO.

Each one of the four featured compositions was by a contemporary American composer: Michael Daugherty (b. 1954), Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), Aaron Copland (1900-1990), and Tyzik (b. 1951). There is a certain je ne sais quoi about great American orchestral works that reflect our nation's huge landscapes, our smoke-swirled jazz influences, our own non-homogenized rhythms and ways of moving about.

The flow of the program wasn't just the result of the right composer combination; it was also the right composition combination. Listening to the final composition, Tyzik's "Images," there were note combinations and passing measures that took me straight back to each one of the earlier three works.

I want to jump right into some comments on the Tyzik composition, "Images: Musical Impressions of an Art Museum." The work is a suite of seven pieces, totaling approximately 45 minutes, each one inspired by a work of art at Rochester's own Memorial Art Gallery. It was a piece commissioned by Bob and Joanne Gianniny, who have previously commissioned Tyzik (you can read more about the origin of the piece by clicking here).

If I have a comment about "Images," it is about the order of the pieces and the inclusion of one that seemed misplaced for the suite and the program. When I interviewed Tyzik, I had asked how he was able to bring together such vastly different works of art into a cohesive piece of music. His response had been that these were works he had chosen and he had his own style as a composer, and that should be sufficient to make it work. Maybe. And you might talk to five people in the audience and get five different comments. But here are my thoughts:

First, the sequence of the program insert showing the artwork should be in the same sequence as the performance. The art is being used to illustrate the impending orchestral performance; it's shouldn't just be tossed on a page to advertise the art. Also, the orchestra might reconsider whether to project a huge, static photograph of the artwork with typewritten title and artist, as it tended to feel more like an art lecture rather than an extension of the composition.

Second, if you look at the art and you read through Tyzik's extensive program notes, the piece "Harlem Street Scene" might not belong in the overall composition. It's the one place in the "Images" work and, indeed, the entire program, where Tyzik used the word "fun." It's a fabulous little piece. It's a Dorsey-esque, get-you-in-the-aisles-and-dance, feel-good number. But the four pieces before it and the piece immediately after it are intense works about killing, horror, nightmares, and the living moving with an urn of ashes.

I was also not sold on the use of massive, still images to accompany not only Tyzik's "Images," but also the other three compositions in the program. For example, the program notes include words from Daugherty about his own composition, "Route 66," which read, "Route 66 is a musical reflection on America, as seen through my rear view mirror. Warning -- objects in mirror are closer than they appear." Thursday night, projecting a single photograph, without any car parts and definitely without the rearview mirror angle, shot standing on the center, yellow line, and with a static landscape, did not fit the edgy mood of the music, which was otherwise brilliantly conveyed by the RPO.

All that said, I want to sing the praises of Kenneth Grant on the clarinet in Copland's "Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra." I already knew Grant was great; I gave him a "Best Of" critic pick two years ago. Last night he outdid himself. Forget any plane tickets you might have for New Orleans to hear a wailing clarinet. Get yourself down to Gibbs Street and listen to Grant play.

Final word, and it's on Tyzik as a conductor. He's superb. Every bit of his 19 years working with the RPO came rushing through during Thursday night's performance. Tyzik clearly knows what he wants to hear and how to shape the RPO to achieve that sound. The RPO clearly knows what to expect when Tyzik is at the podium, and the musicians look and sound comfortable and confident under his leadership. This was my first time hearing Tyzik the composer and Tyzik the conductor, and I am hooked on both.

The RPO will repeat the program Saturday, November 10, at 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St. Tickets cost $15-$92. For more information call 454-2100 or visit rpo.org.

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Speaking of RPO, Jeff Tyzik

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