I spent my Saturday evening at the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts with the Prince George's Philharmonic . Arriving just minutes before the starting time, seats were hard to find among the clearly excited audience. But we found seats row four center and sat down to hear a concert of two grand compositions of the 'classical' music canon.
With Charles Ellis, conductor, the concert began with the Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90 of Johannes Brahms. While I initially thought the pairing of the Brahms with the Prokofiev was a strange choice, I have to say that the contrast between the two pieces worked better than any other substitute for the 3rd Symphony that I could come up with. I did momentarily think of a mid to late Haydn symphony or an early Schubert, even Beethoven's Eighth, but as it turns out Mr. Ellis had the matter well in hand.
The Brahms's 3rd is a difficult piece to pull off. It shares the same performance challenge with piano Sonata's of Mozart - deceptively simple until you try to play them. And it is not the technical requirements of the performance, which are significant, that creates the biggest problem, but rather the difficulty of making the 'simplicity' of the organic whole stick together.
The first movement seemed to take a little while to come together, but once the orchestra found its musical soul, the conductor was able to showcase the quiet grandeur of the symphony's structure. I thought the performances of the 2nd and 3rd movements were exquisitely wrought. The early problems of various section's attack were by then a faded memory and the listener could revel in the complex simplicities of Brahms. I was impressed by the balance between the sections that Mr. Ellis coaxed from the orchestra and the resulting timbres that he was able to exploit in the performance especially in the final movement.
And then, after the quiet ending of the Brahms 3rd, it was intermission, and a retrenchment to the back row which for me allows for a more cohesive aural experience. I like to tell myself that the sounds of the orchestra of time to blend and age a bit, even if this is more or less non-sensical idea.
The Prokofiev is a major performance challenge for any orchestra and for the soloist. And I suspect that the Sinfonia Concertante for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 125 can be a challenge for the unsuspecting first-time listener, too. However difficult for the new comer, the required technical proficiency and skill on the part of the soloist is staggering. Anthony Elliott rocked the room. A winner of the Emanuel Feuermann International Cello Competition in 1987, Strad Magazine wrote of him "His emotional communication is often profound, and his glittering, silvery tone captivates the ear". And how true that was last night. The Philharmonic was in full accord and up to its role of not-over-powering the soloist, but rather being an equal performance partner and artistic collaborator.
Without a question I was bowled over by an extraordinary rendition of this late work of the great Russian composer. The intellect, wit, humor and sarcasm were brought forth, and the skill of the soloist and the orchestra at times were such as to become hidden by the full brilliance of the music - which is as it should be.
As with many things in Prince George's County, the Philharmonic deserves to be more widely recognized. Hopefully, I can attend the last concert of the season in May. Thank you Philharmonic for a wonderful evening of great music.
Saturday, May 12, 2012 - 8:00pm
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, College Park, MD
Charles Ellis Conductor - Awadagin Pratt, Piano
Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue
Gershwin “I Got Rhythm” Variations for Piano and Orchestra Shostakovich Symphony No. 10 in E Minor, Op. 93
Tickets for the Clarice Smith Center are included with a season subscription. Single tickets will be available through the Clarice Smith Center box office only. Click here to purchase tickets for this concert online.