|Michael Mizrahi |
Photo by Andrew Chiciak
Last night at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park, Maryland, the Prince George's Philharmonic ended its 2012 - 2013 season at the top of one of the highest mountains of western music. The two masterpieces are bookends of the Romantic tradition. Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491 foreshadows the heart of romanticism while Mahler's Symphony No. 1 in D Major, the Titan, gathers all of the soul of the Romantic Era of western music in one giant structure summing up all that has come since Mozart and setting the stage for the 20th century's musical offerings.
Michael Mizrahi was the soloist for the Mozart Concerto. Mr. Mizrahi received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia, where his concentrations were in music, religion and physics. He holds, in addition, master’s and doctoral degrees from the Yale School of Music. Mr. Mizrahi's command of the piano is artful, brilliant, informed, and virtuosic. All of these masterful qualities brought out the very essence of the concerto form. The derivation of the word concerto is open to many theories, one of which is highlighted by Mr. Mizrahi's and Mr. Ellis' collaboratively nuanced interpretation.
The word concerto may have arisen from the mixing of two Latin words conserere (meaning to tie, to join, to weave) and certamen (competition, fight). The idea, brilliantly executed by the two Maestri along with the classical sized orchestra, is a piece of music, concerto, in two parts with the soloist and the orchestra alternating episodes of opposition, large scale counterpoint, cooperation, and independence in the recreation of a great conjoined symphonic fusion.
Mr. Mizrahi was able to switch from a concertante collaborator to a spotlighted fiery soloist in an impossibly brief blink of an eye. One moment he was in complete partnership with the wonderful woodwinds, the next producing waves of sound from pulsating scales that can only come from a master of the pianoforte. This extraordinary ability to switch seamlessly between roles demonstrated the true place of the cadenza, a small piece of improvisation most times obscured, but not this time. From the exploration of emotion in the 1st movement's cadenza to the brief paraphrase of Beethoven homage to this piece in the third movement's cadenza, Mr. Mizrahi was in control.
The conductor, Mr. Ellis, continued his skillful ability to bring out the various sections of the Philharmonic treating them as soloists in their own right; in the Mozart they surely sparkled in a glittering, stellar performance. With some minor tempo bumps that did nothing to subtract from the overall performance, the orchestra demonstrated is proficiency, skill and art. I am still absorbing the performance having come to the concert with my usual baggage of 40 plus years of expectations based on previous renditions. I was delighted to be treated to a performance de novo that served to reacquaint me with the music as if for the first time - a rare treat in deed.
After intermission it was time to tackle a peak in the summit of symphonic music. If this was your first hearing, the experience could give you a sense of vertigo. From the drone reminiscent in Beethoven's great 9th Symphony opening, to the sonic tsunami of the ending an hour later, you are swept along through a musical process of creation made audible, sensible, and metaphorically visible. There are no words to describe listening to this music, because it is felt in the soul not circumscribed in the mind. You do not so much understand the music as stand under the emotional weight of it.
The titanic symphony of Mahler became last night a grand concerto concertante in the sense that I described above. The Prince George's Philharmonic and its conductor, Mr. Ellis, were all at once soloists and partners in a great endeavor that required every bit of skill and artistry they could muster. And they did.
The heroic strings finished the season at the top. The woodwinds gave their all and the brass shook their fists at the gods themselves. And lest we forget, the percussionists' determination and proficiency capped the performance. How does one even begin to write a review of such a performance? The answer is recognition of the talents, skill, understanding, competency, and mastery of his instrument, the orchestra. Mr. Ellis achieves excellence in performance by in part showcasing the artistry of his orchestra allowing them to shine, and in doing so creates masterful performances. He deserves the accolades due a soloist last night.
If you heard the concert you were rewarded spectacularly beyond all reason and expectation. I only wish more Prince Georgians could hear the orchestra and fill the seats. How is it that we complain so much about what we do not have and give so little to what we do? The arts are a crucial, critical, integral part of a calculus of quality of life, a community without art is not alive. If this county truly wishes to be more than just a place to survive, it must reach out and support all the arts, for art defines who we are and who we want to be.