Just as I said it would be, the Columbus State University Philharmonic Orchestra’s Sunday afternoon concert was special. In that context, “special” could be inferred as meaning good. That’s not necessarily the case. Something can be especially bad, but that was not the case Sunday.
The young musicians once again proved they are up to expertly playing the great classics . They nailed Mozart’s Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro” and Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 in E-minor, OP 98, as best as I can tell. And, this time, they showed they were up to to playing a big, new, and challenging symphonic work. That work is what made the concert special, because it was the world premier of Dr. Fred Cohen’s Piano Concerto No. 1.
Dr. Cohen, who is Director of the Schwob School of Music, wrote the Concerto as a gift to Maxine Schiffman to show his appreciation for her family foundation’s gift of 67 Steinway pianos to the school. The word “Steinway” is to pianos what the word “Cadillac” is to cars.
Professor Gila Goldstein brilliantly played the complex and unique concerto on one of the Steinways Sunday. It’s a Hamburg Steinway. The sound coming from it was indeed grand.
What about the Concerto itself? What was it like? Was it good? Not being a musicologist myself, how can I write a review on it? I decided I can’t. I can tell you my reaction to it, but it’s not an expert opinion. All right, I will tell you my reaction to it. It was exciting, and, since I was a drummer at one time, I really enjoyed the fact that Dr. Cohen effectively used a lot of percussion. The sounds coming from the orchestra had a uniqueness to them. They certainly weren’t the harmonies of the Romantic and Classical periods of symphonic music. They were contemporary, and some were dissonant.
After the concert, I went out into the lobby looking for a real expert to get a take on the piece. I found one, retired Columbus Symphony Orchestra violist and pediatrician Dr. Mary Schley. Our conversation went something like this:
“What did you think of the Piano Concerto?”
“It was magnificent!”
“What did you like about it?”
“The wonderful colors that he gave us. He is one of the best composers in being able to do that.”
“Could you hum any of it as you leave the theater?”
“I don’t need that. After all, it’s not a Broadway musical.”
“The great composers like Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms all gave us memorable melodies.”
“I need to hear it again.”
“So do I.”
“Maybe when we hear it again, some of those great colorful passages will provide melodies of color.”
Maybe they will.
I decided to ask a lay person for an impression of it. “What do you think of concert?” I asked another doctor who was headed for the Spring Harbor bus. (Spring Harbor is a plush, expensive retirement facility.) I’m not sure he knew I have a blog. So I won’t use his name.
“I liked two-thirds of it.”
“What was the third you didn’t like?”
With a wry smile, he said, “The one in the middle.”
“The Piano Concerto.”
“Right. I am not much for contemporary music,” he said. “It has too much dissonance in it.”
An honest answer.
Me? Well, I can enjoy some contemporary music. I don’t need to hear knock-offs of the great classical composers. I can get the real thing, and I did with the Mozart and Brahms. I did enjoy the Piano Concerto because of that color that Dr. Schley talked about, those unique sounds coming not only coming from the orchestra, but also from the piano and, as I said, the use of a lot of percussion. As Dr. Schley said, we need to hear it again.