Saturday night was the Ann Arbor Symphony’s first concert of the new season. If you weren’t there you missed something pretty special.
It started out with the premiere playing of Ann Arbor Saturday, by composer William Bolcom. The piece was commissioned for the symphony and depicted Ann Arbor on a football game day, from the initial flow of cars coming into the quiet town to the intense game itself, with the University of Michigan finally coming out on top. Of course.
Along the way it pays homage to other universities with bits of their fight songs woven into the main themes. The audience, most staunch supporters of University of Michigan football got all the jokes and nuances. Being a Michigan State graduate myself, I guessed at some of them, but thoroughly enjoyed the music.
And we heard Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (in honor of the symphony’s 90 anniversary), “From the New World.” It was accompanied by visuals, shown on a huge screen hanging above the musicians, of landscape photographs and videos depicting the natural beauty of this country.
There are four movements. My favorite, musically, is movement number two, the Largo. The spiritual “Going Home” was adapted from this movement and every time I hear it I get teary thinking about my parents and wishing they were coming home even though I know they are, now, truly home.
At the end of the piece there was a long moment of silence as the maestro and his symphony orchestra shared that connection of a piece well done. Then they stirred and the audience stood and applauded to acknowledge the beauty of the entire experience.
But the biggest, most magical moments of the evening occurred during Aaron Diehl‘s performance of two Gershwin pieces, “I Got Rhythm” Variations and Rhapsody in Blue. He’s a jazz pianist who improvised during the cadenzas, those parts of the music where only the piano played. Maestro Lipsky said, during the lecture prior to the performance, that his blood pressure was higher than normal during rehearsals of this piece because “I have no idea when or how Aaron is going to come out of the cadenzas. Each rehearsal has been different.” And as the music unfurled above us, rollicking, bouncing off the walls and ceiling of Hill Auditorium, you could see both Lipsky and members of the orchestra listening intently, waiting for the cue to come back in as Diehl’s fingers flew over the piano keys.
I was lucky enough to have a seat in the hall where I could see the artist’s face as well as his hands. He exuded pure, sweet joy that manifested itself into magic that flowed from his fingers and into all our hearts. His hands moved so fast it’s a wonder that, by the end of Rhapsody, the keys hadn’t all but melted. And speaking of Rhapsody – be still my heart – the clarinet in the beginning of the piece almost made me swoon.
Both pieces were extraordinary. And as the second one was coming to an end you could feel the anticipation building in the audience. We were on our feet cheering before he lifted his hands from the keyboard, before the last note had a chance to fade. The sound from the audience exploded with a noise so loud I’m surprised we didn’t make the evening news. You’d have thought someone had just kicked the winning field goal in a championship football game.
So I guess Ann Arbor won twice yesterday. The football team did, in fact, win their game. And music lovers who were lucky enough to be sitting in Hill Auditorium won too. Thanks Ann Arbor Symphony, for giving us, yet again, a wonderful gift.
I haven’t stopped smiling.