Tuesday, November 8, 2011

AL.com: “MSO presents 'Beethoven & Blue Jeans' Nov. 12-13 at the Saenger Theatre with pianist Awadagin Pratt”

[Awadagin Pratt]

Blue jeans may be receiving much of the attention for this set of concerts, but the excerpt from the article in the Press-Register also features pianist Awadagin Pratt's analysis of the movements of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto, one of the major works on the program:

Published: Monday, November 07, 2011
By Thomas B. Harrison, Press-Register
“Beethoven & Blue Jeans” is easily the MSO’s most eagerly anticipated classical concert of the year, for obvious reasons. “People love that the orchestra is wearing blue jeans, that I’m wearing blue jeans and that they are encouraged to wear blue jeans or really whatever they want,” music director Scott Speck says in a news release. “The secret is that people are welcome to wear whatever they want to our concerts all the time.”

It doesn’t hurt that the annual concert is a showcase for arguably the world’s most popular classical composer. Next weekend’s performances will feature the heroic and powerful Concerto No. 5, the “Emperor,” played by a dynamic musician. “Awadagin Pratt plays with incredible power, so much so that it will be a challenge for the orchestra to be heard,” Speck says. “He is a very unusual and exciting musician. If you look at him, he looks like a reggae singer. He’s actually from Normal, Ill., and his first CD is called ‘A Long Way from Normal.’”

Mobile Symphony Orchestra will presents its annual “Beethoven & Blue Jeans” concerts at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 13 in the Saenger Theatre, Joachim and Conti streets, downtown Mobile. Under the direction of Scott Speck, the MSO also will perform “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks” by Richard Strauss and “Rainbow Body” by Christopher Theofanidis. Beethoven’s “Emperor” is undeniably the main course next weekend, but Speck describes “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks,” Strauss’ tone poem about a celebrated German folk hero and prankster, as “red meat” for the orchestra. “This is a piece that only the greatest orchestras play,” he says. “It is really a sign of our maturity and development as an orchestra that we are now taking on this great masterpiece.”

The “Emperor” Concerto is a masterpiece in its own right and has been performed in concert halls worldwide. Stunning performances of the work, including a famous televised concert featuring Glenn Gould, can be found on YouTube. Pratt has played Beethoven’s Concerto No. 5 many times, including once already this season. Speaking from his home in Cincinnati, the pianist explains the enduring charm and power of the piece. “The opening starts off with cadenza for the piano, which is always kind of great,” Pratt says. “Usually the orchestra has a long introduction before the piano comes in, but in this work the piano comes crashing in right away. There’s a great synergy between the music that’s in the piano and the music that’s in the orchestra, and beautiful solo lines that go through the woodwinds with the piano kind of accompanying.

“The first movement has a kind of energy and vitality and virility to it. It has some of Beethoven’s most beautiful writing — a really touching melody, slightly melancholy. The piano has this kind of soliloquy when it comes in, kind of static and pure. With the right piano in the right hall, it’s one of the more beautiful experiences when you play it. It just floats, really.” The serenity of the second movement moves seamlessly into the third, a Rondo (Allegro ma non troppo) that Pratt describes as “a dance (with an) energetic, buoyant kind of feeling.” A concert musician never tires of such music, he says. “It’s always slightly different, even if you’re playing it the same way you think you’re playing it,” Pratt says. “It’s slightly different because of the orchestra and the conductor, who always brings something slightly different to the table. And the (concert) hall.

“There is always a kind of electricity to any live performance. Something unexpected will happen, whether it’s big or small — something will happen that kind of ignites things (and creates) a different energy. You never know, from one night to the next.” Pratt is eager to perform next weekend before large audiences at the Saenger Theatre in downtown Mobile. One major task remains on his to-do list, however. “I only wear black jeans,” he says with a laugh. “I have to go buy some blue jeans.”

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