Who could have guessed Dr. Cobbs would take the stage on crutches and conduct Beethoven and Rachmaninoff, seated, on a dining room chair?
Not I, say I.
But mind you, we’re talking Everett Symphony Orchestra’s 22nd season opener last Friday night at Everett Civic Auditorium. Also, we’re talking about performing the big B’s monumental Fifth, 14 years in the making, and accompanying featured pianist, Duane Hulbert, through the Russian Rach’s impossible Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.
For listeners and performers, that is heavy duty stuff; and sympathies and wishes for a speedy recovery aside, the maestro’s mishap couldn’t have been better timed. The sight of him pushing on in good spirits got everybody relaxed and ready. What a guy. What a performance. What a treat.
Boom-boom-boom Booom! Film, stage, rock, pop, one way or another, everyone knows the opening phrase announcing the four movements of Beethoven’s 5th. ESO hit it hard, no surprise there.
What was surprising was the orchestra and music’s merge with the organizing principle; which is to say, the many dimensions to the longing of a lover rushing to rendezvous with his beloved. His anxieties, fears, hopes, reminiscences and obsessions were all stated, repeated, varied and building with the passion and compassion of a kind of universal mantra, yet fresh and exciting. You couldn’t listen and not be reminded of the hell of separation and heaven of reunion. Just thinking about it tires me out.
Hulbert just plain did the impossible. Here’s a guy, no stranger to concert stages around the world, who addresses a Rhapsody modeled after one for violin that no violinist can play. Translated for piano, that means a set of twenty-four variations, crossovers at blinding speed, rapid-firing scales including minor scales and arpeggios in thirds and tenths and sheer intensity. Translated by the music man from Minnesota, it meant focus like you can’t believe.
The swoon Hulbert went into, on those rare occasions the glutton for punishment, Rachmaninoff, allowed, was actually a relief to watch. For by far the most part, this long, lean, bony, baldheaded whiz on the keyboards was dazzling you with finger speed your eyes couldn’t follow. It was amazing to witness but more a show of technical virtuosity than an experience of emotional truth; more feverish than feeling, more nervous than knowing.
This was definitely a season opener for high brows and a good indicator of how deeply steeped the classics Dr. Cobbs et alia are. But don’t let that fool you. They’ve got a real mix coming up this season. I can hardly wait.
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