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NHK and Ashkenazy at the Walt Disney Concert Hall

Yesterday, I got the chance to hear a symphony performance at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

It’s a striking building. It’s not easy to describe, but it brings to mind a spaceship from the future. Sleek, curved, asymmetrical, and metallic: as with the Bilbao Guggenheim, Gehry‘s style is unmistakeable.

The interior was a departure, though. It was surprisingly warm, filled with bright hardwood and lush carpet. I wanted to sit down, put my feet up by the fire, and listen to Grandpa spin a yarn.

The performance itself didn’t quite measure up to the building, but it wasn’t bad. Heléné Grimaud joined Ashkenazy and the NHK during the first half for Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1. Despite her theatrics at the piano, she was magnificent. I’d never heard the concerto in person before, and it’s amazingly powerful.

On its own, though, the NHK was a little lacking. They’re too…deliberate. They worked so hard to play the notes, and they were so proud when they did, that the music itself fell by the wayside. They made up for it with technical pyrotechnics and sheer volume, but they didn’t have much dynamic range. Debussy’s La Mer was noticeably slower than usual, and felt labored when it should have been light and airy.

Despite their heavy hand, we were surprised to find that we recognized Elgar’s main theme in Enigma Variations, even though the piece was new to us. It took a while, but we finally realized that it had been featured prominently in, of all places, the Matrix soundtrack. We got a kick out of that.

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