OK, I’m back from Wyoming. It’s taken me a week and some to readjust to being home — first, because I loved spending an entire month doing nothing but hiking in the Wyoming mountains and making art in a studio at the wonderful Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, but also because I happened to fly back home on election night, and landed in Eugene at the stroke of midnight to discover I had entered some kind of parallel universe I had never imagined inhabiting.
But tonight’s Eugene Symphony concert went a long ways toward restoring sanity.
The program featured pianist Stephen Hough, a British keyboard celeb (composer, performer, poet, MacArthur genius grant recipient), who turned out one of the best piano concertos I’ve ever heard performed. Hough’s rendition of Beethoven’s third piano concerto, Op. 37, wasn’t flashy and it wasn’t dramatic. What it offered instead was a steady, reserved brilliance that went on and on without a break for more than half an hour.
I may have been swayed by the seats I got at the Hult’s Silva Hall — just about dead center on the mezzanine — which, in that very uneven hall, offered the best and most seamless blend I’ve heard there of piano and orchestra. But I don’t think it was just acoustic perfection. Hough’s playing was eerily right at every single moment, without his showing the least strain. It was like he could kick out perfect Beethoven in his sleep.
I wanted to talk with him, but Hough was too big a fish to land for an interview, despite my best efforts. He saves his energy for talking, it seems, to outlets like the New York Times and The Economist.
The concert opened with a piece called Ode to the Future: Variations on Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy,’ which was put together by five young — very young, as in high school age — Oregon composers. The five — Marissa Lane-Massee, Joseph Miletta, Wesley Coleman, Cayla Bleoaja and Katie Palka — each worked out a variation on the last movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony. The five short movements were then combined and performed together as a single piece.
How do I put this, so Eugene Symphony understands. DO THIS MORE! Do this at every concert! Play more new music, not just by high schoolers but by college undergraduates just exploring music for the first time and by grad students looking at it as a career. We have a music school here. There should be new music on every single concert program!
OK. End of lecture.
The evening concluded with Shostakovich’s symphony No.11, a very brooding, intense, Russian piece that’s, sadly, terribly appropriate to today’s world a full century and some after it was written.
I was able to tuck back into my seat and be taken to place where suffering is universal, and accepted, and where the president to be just seems another distraction from all the beauty that is out there, if only we can look and listen.