Met Orchestra Musicians, March 28, 2021
I heard the Met Orchestra Musicians in concert on March 29, 2021 (it had been live the day before). This concert was hosted by the divine Susan Graham, one of the Met’s greatest singers. The title of the concert was “A Year Together: Celebrating Opera in Year Like No Other.”
They opened with “Feierliches Stück” from Wagner’s *Lohengrin* arranged for cello quartet by Friedrich Grutzmacher. Oh Lord it was gorgeous. Clearly these people have a deep feeling for the style and principal cellist Rafael Figueroa sounded glorious in his solo. Here's another quartet playing the piece:
Their next selection was “The Easy Winners” by Scott Joplin, arranged by Werner Thomas-Mifune. They played it with wit and charm, two of my favorite things, and Figueroa did some delightful (yet tasteful) swooping in his solo line.
The next number, Ravel’s “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (arranged by W. Weber) was beautiful but not entirely successful. I felt like the cello quartet format didn’t really serve this piece very well, the timbres and textures were a little too uniform. The next piece, a *Carmen Fantasy* arranged by Werner Thomas-Mifune, was delicious. Clearly the piece profits by having played by cellists who have played the Bizet original many times. I was about to use the word “countless,” but it wouldn’t be accurate. With a little work, you could actually count the number of *Carmen*s they’ve each played. The last number in the medley, the rousing gypsy song that opens Act Two, hovered right on the edge of mania. Which is right where I want to live. As an audience member. The three other parts in the quartet were played by a rotating trio from these four players: Dorothea Figueroa, Kari Jane Docter, David Heiss and Julia Bruskin. Percussionist Steven White joined them for the *Carmen Fantasy.*
Elaine Douvas (oboe) and Joel Noyes (cello) played an arrangement of a duet from Dizetti’s *Lucia di Lammermoor,* with Bryan Wagorn at the piano. The arrangement was by 19th century oboist and composer Henri Brod. They all played with supreme elegance and the arrangement had the aura of a 19th century salon concert. And again, what a treat to hear this music played by people who make their living playing opera.
Douvas was back again with another contemporary bel canto duet arrangement, a duet from Bellini’s *La Sonnambula,* arranged by clarinetist and composer Hyacinthe Klosé. Douvas and Wagorn were joined by the Met’s principal clarinetist, Anton Rist. Their performance had that languid melancholy that colors so much of Bellini, like a pink moon shining through clouds. And did I hear a few yodeling references to the opera’s Swiss setting?
Next, a brass quintet from the Met Orchestra played an arrangement of the prelude to Verdi’s *Aida.* This arrangement, unlike the other arrangements were heard, were not done by a someone contemporary to the original composer’s time, but contemporary to our time, French horn player Thomas Jöstlein. It was delightful and I think the delicacy of the music undercut what is sometimes a surging testosterone quality of a brass quintet. The five players were David Krauss and Ray Riccomini (trumpets), Erik Ralske (horn), Denson Paul Pollard (trombone), and Chris Hall (tuba).
More Wagner, thank you! The Grand March from *Tannhäuser,* another arrangement by Jöstlein, played by those five dudes and many others:
Billy R. Hunter, Jr., Ray Riccomini and Peter Bond, trumpets
Brad Gemeinhardt, Anne Marie Scharer, Javier Gándara and Barbara Jöstlein Currie horns
Demian Austin, Weston Sprott, trombones
Denson Paul Pollard, bass trombone
Chris Hall, tuba
Greg Zuber and Steven White, percussion
Oh, it was wonderful. I was about to say, “It took me back to Bayreuth,” the temple of Wagner, but then I remembered that I’ve never been to Bayreuth.
Hearing that wonderful piece made me remember a funny story about talking with a French horn player in the Strelow Lounge when I was in college, sometime in the late 80s. It was Kendall Gray, for those of you who know him.
KENDALL: Oh Chris, you might be curious to hear that I’m going to the Met over spring break.
ME: Oh really! What are you going to see?
KENDALL: The Ring Cycle.
ME: Oh my God, I can’t imagine! Who’s singing? KENDALL: I have no idea. I don’t give a f-ck who’s singing, I’m there to hear the brass section.