Wednesday, February 08, 2006

as they say in France, 'ooga booga!'

Though Franco-American relations have been strained the past few years, I've always thought of it as more a lovers' quarrel than an all-out blood feud. Most of us haven't started burning our Balzac or anything, and renaming our pommes frites as 'freedom fries' seems just the sort of petty passive aggression that's quickly forgotten after making up.

The New World Symphony program this weekend offers a chance for some making up in time for Valentine's Day, with music by Poulenc, Ravel, and Berlioz. Last weekend Deco Drive anchor Louise Aguirre introduced Ravel's Bolero as "the greatest make-out music of all time" (no one in that audience seemed to be making out though, as far as I could tell). This program is full of equally passionate, evocative music. French music is not just romantic, colorful, and charming, though - and at times it can be downright scary and grotesque.

That's definitely the case with Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique, a lover's wistful fantasies of narcotics, murder, witchcraft, decapitation, dancing, and sheep (not necessarily in that order). Guest conductor Stéphane Denève has been encouraging us to cast off our inhibitions and indulge in all the flamboyant, impetuous, arrogant, and stomach-churning excesses we can manage. At one point in the first movement he asked us to hear the music as less orderly, more terrifying - to make it say "ooga booga!"

American orchestra players are addicted to clarity, and so making the leap to craziness is scary and quite difficult. We reflexively retreat to our comfortable unanimity, only to have our Gallic guest conductor provoke another round of mass hysteria. I'm not sure we've quite realized what he is going for - but he has definitely drawn some startling effects from the orchestra. A percussionist cracked one of the huge bells in the fifth movement Dies irae, and we string players struggled to maintain control of our own equipment in a flurry of down-bows at the end of the fourth movement march.

It wouldn't be much of a love affair, though, if everything were always controlled and comfortable. More to come about this program, which will be performed twice this weekend at Lincoln Theatre: on Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 3. Visit the New World Symphony website for more information.

1 comment:

mkh said...

I didn't see anyone making out during the performance, and that's the sort of thing I tend to notice.

Incidentally, it was great to meet you!