Well, I’ve just returned from an excellent concert at Frank Gehry’s wonderful Walt Disney Concert Hall (photo at left by Tom Bonner). The Los Angeles Philharmonic (the Hall has been its home since it opened in Fall 2003) had as guest conductor Andras Schiff, who is one of those marvellous people who can direct from the piano while playing remarkably complex material. It was a program of Mendelssohn (String Symphony No. 10 in B minor), Schumann (Introduction and Allegro appasionato, Op. 92), Haydn (Piano Concerto in D major, Hob. XVIII: 11) and closing with Schumann again (Symphony No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 38 -Spring).
Schiff was just fantastic, and the orchestra was really solid, as usual. He played the Haydn with delight and a level of electricity that I’ve not seen for a while brought out of that material, even though its brightness is quite conducive to that sort of treatment.
So much about watching an orchestra while listening to it fascinates me, and I love having seats that get me as close as possible to watch what is going on. Different things fascinate me on different evenings, depending upon my mood. One thing that was particularly interesting in both Schumann pieces, even though separated in time quite a bit, was how the composer splits some of the lines across the instrumentation, starting a lot with french horns but then breaking it across to trumpets and some interesting doubling with flutes and oboe. I’ve not noticed it quite so clearly before in this work. Part of this may have been my mood, and part of it may be the fact that the acoustics in the Disney Hall are so amazing that I’ve (re)discovered aspects of several pieces that I thought were familiar by listening to them in that place. Something about the careful design of the space has produced the remarkable ability to separate out every instrument in the orchestra -even when at full size (which is was not this evening)- and allow you to hear them clearly.
The other thing that catches my attention a lot are the musicians who are not doing something the whole time. This can be interesting for a host of reasons, and not just the obvious, which is your curiosity about what they must be thinking about while waiting, and when are they going to come in. This is often the timpanist, but it is quite easy to work out when they are going to be needed most of the time. But tonight was a special treat for me. They had a triangle guy on the last piece! If you don’t know the piece very well -and I did not- it is not clear when he’s going to come in, and so you can sit and try to anticipate depending upon how the music is developing. The piece’s popular title is “Spring” so there’s clearly going to be some need in several places for bright sparkly springy bits in both quiet and loud places. Challenge to get into the mind of the composer there and see if you can anticipate. The other thing that was notable was that Mr. Triangle had not one but two chairs. He had one in which he sat in a state of readiness for the majority of the piece, but eventually he did stir himself, and pick up his triangle and one of his two tiny metal traingle-beater-sticks (do you “beat” a triangle or “tickle” it? And why do you need two sticks?) he had carefully laid out. He did his thing for a short while and then he sat in the taller chair, as he was to play soon after. I think of that second chair as his chair of preparedness – in the other chair he’s merely in readiness – or is it the other way around? I’ve enlarged the picture of the orchestra that I snapped secretly (no flash or noise of course) to show you the triangle guy, his chairs, and his equipment.
Well, while I was watching and listening to him in action, I began to wonder: Why is a triangle a triangle? Would a square sound as good? Or a pentagon or other polygon? Are triangles equilateral ones or isosceles? I think the latter, but I’m not sure. And was there a reason for his having two ticklers/beaters? (He did swop from one to another at one point, and I listened for a tone difference but was not sure if I heard it.) There’s got to be some interesting physics in the vibrations of such shapes….is the triangle shape just a traditional one or is there some experimental reason behind the preference for that shape?
Well, I’ll go to bed with these important questions on my mind, along with the pressing puzzle of what on earth to wear to tomorrow night’s Hallowe’en party in West Hollywood. Apparently it’s a 70s disco theme. I’ve no clothes for that….can’t I just go as a scary Physicist from the 21st Century, i.e., me? At parties, women (and men) already run screaming when I tell them what I do anyway, at any time of year, so I don’t need a costume.