Beyond the Score: Pure Melodrama? An exploration of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Jaap van Zweden, conductor, Fred Child, narrator, Leonard C. Haas, actor, Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, April 19, 2012. Review for WRTI, 90.1 fm.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Unless it’s worth 1,000 notes. Beyond the Score, a multi-media project conceived by the Chicago Symphony to immerse newcomers with more than just the music is a good concept. We’ve enjoyed this kind of program before at the Philadelphia Orchestra. Thursday night, the score to get into and beyond at Verizon was Tchaikovsky’s Fourth. Fred Child, of American Public Radio, narrated and Leonard Haas acted incidents concerning the life and process of one of the Russian master’s greatest works. (They did a good job.) Love, depression, marriage, homosexuality, these were factors. So was Tolstoy’s influence and the dominant theatrical value of the time, melodrama. Beyond the Score, uses a screen directly above the orchestra stage. As Childs and Haas traded remarks — the screen above the Philadelphians projected a narrative, often art scenes or characters from fiction. This one was a bit like watching a PBS biography of a composer to his own live accompaniment. Thirty minutes might have held my complete attention. But an hour of show, tell and quotation can girdle the imagination. I looked forward to the music on it’s own, and conductor Jaap van Zweden didn’t disappoint. The fate symphony, written in such anguish, caught fire early and never lost momentum. Many subtleties were also captured. The melancholy second movement, opening with Dick Woodhams’ oboe was every bit as as lovely as the pastoral landscapes on screen. Another pleasure of this concert was the preponderance of happy young people filling the hall. I spoke to high school band students from Mechanicsville, Va., and college students signed on for the orchestra’s Meet & Greet reception. . Some one in marketing: Nice work.