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08 August 2015

Haydn Out in the Park

"Wonder and Joy"
I'll jumble for you...

I may be in a small minority of people who find the Frank Gehry Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Grant Park monstrous, in a Transformers-Come-To-Life kind of way. Whimsical perhaps from a distance, to me it is positively, loomingly terrifying up close. And all fine if it is is a showcase for technology, but hearing Haydn’s late, beautiful Harmoniemesse there last evening only made me long more for the gloriously light and festive architecture I had seen in Germany almost a year ago. Why, as the website proclaims conductor “Carlos Kalmar pairs this ephemeral piece with John Adams' score that praises and parodies lush Romantic harmony” is beyond me. 

Surprise! The stage framed by engineered wood is symmetrical.
Wouldn't be too hard to come up with a classical alternative...
The more time I’ve spent in Chicago this summer the more I’m aware of the relentless insistence on juxtaposing Modernist with older music: try to find a program at Symphony Hall that can’t let an 18th century composition go unchallenged with a 19th or 20th century piece. Ravinia’s music festival had not one Early Music concert this entire summer (I had heard Jordi Savall there several years ago), and precious little truly classical music. It’s not as if the music of Hayden and before is difficult—au contraire, it’s the later stuff, especially of the 20th and 21st centuries, that is often unlistenable, or at best taken like a bitter pill. A spoonful of medicine helps the sugar go down, the Chicago cultural Brahmins seem to believe.

The stage itself:
I guess they ran out of money
after all that titanium...
While I’m on a mild rant, let me ask why the concert tickets were so expensive (I know the lawn is effectively free) when more than half the seats went unsold? Why not charge half the price and fill more seats? The Art Institute is heading the same way with its increasingly prohibitive ticket prices.

As the program noted, Hayden said in response to questions about his faith, “‘When I think of the Grace of God, my heart is so full of joy that the notes fairly dance and leap from my pen.’  Jacob [H. E., the composer’s first biographer] went on to make the sage observation that ‘Haydn and Mozart did not write their church music for the gloom of a medieval Gothic cathedral. They composed instead for the sun-drenched rococo churches of their own time, with their riot of inside color. All the churches of Austria and Southern Germany glittered in white, blue and gold. Painted wooden angels with puffed cheeks and windswept garments were stationed near the choir, and often The Holy Trinity was surrounded by hosts of laughing saints, to help the churchgoers forget the sobrieties of their daily life. Even fairs, with carousels, were held close to the church.’ There is little music that mixes divine wonder and human joy as successfully as do these last works of Haydn’s genius.”

The small, "provincial" church of Maria Steinbach in Bavaria

How nice it would be to hear such glorious music in a place attuned to it...

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