Chicago's homegrown virtuosi of phlegm and electronica
(London Symphony & Chicago Symphony)
Oct 24, 2007
Last night I heard the last of the four concerts of Haitink and the Chicago SO in Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll (original chamber version) and the Mahler 6th. Besides the nice concept of tributes to wives (Wagner’s gift, Mahler’s Alma theme), I prefer the Mahler all alone on a program (especially as Haitink’s clocked in at 90 minutes), but the Wagner was nicely done. The 6th was exceptional. And those hammer blows were something to see even more than hear. The new principal percussionist, Cynthia Yeh, a diminutive Taiwanese woman, ascended a 3-step platform and swung a hammer with a handle nearly as long as she is tall, her feet seeming to leave the ground. Those who hadn’t noticed her until that first blow had their eyes glued to her, along with everyone else in the hall, when she moved into position for the second (and, in this case, final) hammer blow. Watching her, at the end of last season, whacking the bass drum in Verdi’s Requiem was a sight to see, but last night she was entering Evelyn Glennie’s visual-drama territory.
But the audience was Chicago at its most bronchial. I can’t believe idiots who insist on going to concerts when they have a persistent cough or sneeze. The capper was at the very end, as the music faded into silence just before the final blow (sans hammer). A half-second before impact, the silence was filled by a loud sneeze.
But at least all extraneous sounds last night came from lungs, throats and noses. The night before, with the background of Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto (Paul Lewis) and the Eroica with Colin Davis and the LSO (fine work from Lewis, absolutely gorgeous playing from the orchestra, deeply satisfying old-school performance from Davis), the plentiful congestion-related explosions were augmented by the repeated dropping of cell phones and blackberries, talking, noisy exits (in the middle of the funeral march), and worst of all, the ringing cell phone. First it “rang” at least a dozen times, the owner apparently ignoring it, which was impossible for everyone else in the hall. Then about ten minutes later, it “rang” steadily and Would. Not. Stop. A crescendo from the stage would drown it out, and then as the music got quieter, there it was, still going. Repeat. Repeat. My only comfort was fantasizing that the phone’s owner had already died--that way, I wouldn’t have to do it myself.