It was wonderful to step into the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall yesterday evening and see it completely filled with concert-goers who were keenly anticipating the Oregon Symphony concert. I've attended too many concerts in which the house seemed to be 2/3rd full, and it just makes me want to rip the remaining hair out of my head because this orchestra under the direction of its music director, Carlos Kalmar, has been playing at an extremely high level. The prior concert, which featured waltzes by the Strauss family, Stravinsky's "Card Game," and Offenbach's Overture to "Orpheus in the Underworld," was exquisite.
For this concert (Sunday, February 4th) Itzhak Perlman, the great violinist, was the major draw in a program consisting of two Beethoven Romances , Tchaikovsky's Serenade in C major for Strings, and Dvorak's Symphony No. 8. Beginning the performance with the Romances, Perlman sat as a member of the orchestra and as a conductor, taking a position to the right of concertmaster Amy Schwartz-Moretti as a sort of ueber-concertmaster and soloist. The rich, sweet sound of Perlman's violin rose above the orchestra in a completely natural way, putting a creamy texture on top of the orchestra's accompaniment. It was sort of like adding schlag-obers to a steamy cup of coffee in a cafe in Vienna on a Sunday afternoon and admiring a group of beautiful women who are window shopping or are on their way to a destination that might be ruinous to a fellow's credit card account.
After the Beethoven numbers, Perlman returned to the stage to conduct Tchaikovsky's Serenade. Perlman showed a vigorous and animated conducting style, especially with the way he used the fingers in his left hand, extending some, curling others. And the strings (I counted 26 violins, 10 violas, 8 cellos, and 7 basses) responded incredibly well to each subtle gesture that he gave. The Waltz movement glided; the Elegy contained an alchemy of melancholy and nobility that was soothing; and the Finale lifted everyone's spirits.
After intermission, Perlman led the orchestra in a wonderful rendition of Dvorak's great symphony. This piece did seem to point out that Perlman is much, much more of a conductor of strings than he is of the brass. When the brass sounded out, Perlman sort of fell back limply on his chair rather than give it any kind of direction. The result of doing this, however, didn't diminish the overall sound and emotion of the piece. Terrific playing by flutist David Buck, oboist Martin Hebert, clarinetist Yoshinori Nakao, trumpeter Jeffrey Work, and the other members of the woodwinds and brass sections put a lot of polish on this work. At the end of the rousing fourth movement, the audience responded with an immediate standing ovation, and I'm sure that many listeners hoped that Perlman might treat them to an encore, but that didn't happen.
It was great to see many smiles on the faces of the orchestra members. I think that they enjoyed this concert as much as we did.