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ISO defines sublime with Brahms Concerto for Piano & Orchestra

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ISO defines sublime with Brahms Concerto for Piano & Orchestra

Anna Vinnitskaya bonded with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in a transcendent exposition of the Brahms Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 83, Nov. 14-16, at Hilbert Circle Theatre. As a most democratic of piano and orchestral works, the demands are such that everyone has to shine—and by everyone that means a dozen individual players starting with a solicitous call from the horn and the exuberant reply from the piano, followed by the full orchestra joyfully announcing, 'we're in on this adventure.' From there forward, it's a tennis match of call-response-venture forth-commentary upon- find the unexpected-savor-embrace-imprint. 

While deeply emotional, this is a work of restraint from self-indulgence. With Vinnitskaya's subtlety, the piano is yearningly solicitous, never sappy, and ever ready to move on to another vista, another mini-drama. Operatic in instrumental relationships, every section has a say in advancing the rapture.

For me, this is a highly personal work. It is what enveloped me when first I traveled to Land Salzburg in Austria. I don't know if Brahms had this layering and echoing of vistas in mind; it's simply how I reacted upon leaving the broadness of the Salzach River that defines Salzburg and upon entering into the Eastern Alps—that opening horn for me is the Alpenhorn luring me into the highlands as dawn overlays night slumber with expectancy. The piano's racing response to the call is me, then, and even now—full of wonderment. I know, 'the hills are alive' —and it's true. The themes pile up as do the layers of upward momentum; the quiet moments are the child in me standing stock still to take it all in before following the urge to go yet higher on that circuitous path that hands-off landscapes of opening up and closing in. And then that glorious interlude with the cello singing the song of the hills, and the piano adding its ecstasy, and the orchestra responding as the rest of the entourage, advancing into the joyful communal celebration glowing under the canopy of stars. The sigh of closure echoes and echoes and echoes….the rest never is silence.

Music can be technically perfect; it also can be technically perfect and offer a moment of transformative ecstasy. Mark that down for the Nov. 16, 2019 performance I attended. It seemed to me that Krzysztof Urbanski was enveloped in the same thrall. In all the years of his residency with the ISO, to me, he always feels flashy, 'hey watch me.' At this concert, I felt him relax into the beauty, the breadth and depth of the humanity Brahms poured into the music. He was at-one-with Brahms and the people sharing this divinity. Music, rivers, lakes, mountains, sky, and the flora and fauna whose home is within this bounty elevated Urbanski's presence. I think, in this case, the guest pianist and the every day ISO players were conducting our maestro to a higher level of emotional engagement.

I refused to allow my mind to wander into the territory of 'this all is threatened, you know, your great-grandchildren may never experience what you have so fully embraced.'

I promised myself, tomorrow I will work even harder to be an advocate for responsible environmental engagement, for making the arts available as a daily way of life. 

On Nov. 16, I let the tears of joy flow when pianist Anna Vinnitskaya walked around the piano to hug cellist Austin Huntington. In these shining moments, the world was glorious; I could believe in goodness.

That is the power of music.

Attending such programs should be mandatory for every entrepreneur bent upon devastating the natural environment for personal economic gain; for every person for whom self-dislike manifesting into hatred of others is a way of life, for those who deny music in schools and concert halls. Maybe, just maybe, together we can save our planet, our humanity?

Brahms is a hard act to follow, nevertheless, Weinberg's Symphony No. 3, Op. 45, in its ISO premiere, held its own. The folk tunes echoed those of Brahms in his closing movement, the thoughtful consideration of the human condition filtered throughout, with optimism bracing against storms and trauma. 

At this program, David Lakirovich served as guest concertmaster, aptly delivering the requisite shimmering Brahmsian solo. 

The ISO last offered the Brahms in Nov. 2015, with Urbanski conducting and Dejan Lazic as piano soloist.

This concert was part of the initiative, "Next Generation ISO to increase awareness and understanding among students of the music-making experience by providing tickets free of charge to schools who may not otherwise be able to participate in the experience of live, world-class symphonic music." Many ISO regulars commented on how nice it was to see students in the lobby as we gathered to enter, and at intermission when we all mingled and chatted. Several asked that I make a note in a column to say welcome to the young audience members, and keep coming back. 

next up at the ISO:

Nov. 30 through Dec. 23, 2019, IPL Yuletide Celebration featuring first-time Yuletide host, Frankie Moreno. The promo reads: "Back this year are the whimsical "Holly Jolly Dollies," and so are the traditions of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and the famous tap-dancing Santas. Along with aerialists and a cast of singers and dancers, Indy's own dance group Expressenz returns to the Yuletide stage. As always, musical and visual surprises will abound." Tickets at the box office: call 317-639-4300 or go to:

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