Last night I attended the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s final concert of the season, an appearance at the Naumberg Bandshell in Central Park that proceeded in defiance of adverse weather forecasts for the evening. In the event, the orchestra was able to play the first three numbers on the program, albeit with a brief delay between movements of a Haydn symphony due to a brief burst of light rain. However, a stronger downpour terminated the concert during the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings.
I don’t usually attend outdoor concerts. I prefer my classical orchestral music without amplification, and in a quiet, climate controlled concert hall environment. I made an exception for this concert because I had received an individual invitation from the orchestra’s management (including a post-concert reception), so I decided to give it a try. I thought the amplification was reasonably well done. Obviously, the sound of the orchestra was a bit artificial, but balances were clean and one at least had the sense of actually hearing what one was seeing. Clearly, it would be impractical to try to perform in this setting in Central Park without amplification, as few beyond the first ten or fifteen rows of seats would hear much of anything otherwise. Outdoor concerts date from a time before the invention of air conditioning, when indoor concerts were an impossibility in the summer in New York due to stifling heat in concert halls. (Indeed, our “normal” concert season and calendar in New York are relics of the pre-air conditioning age, and I can see no good reason that major concert halls are empty during the summer months. Lincoln Center fills the gap with a festival of unusual presentations in July and Mostly-Mozart concerts in August, the MM festival having been a response to the invention of air conditioning! Why Carnegie and Town Hall don’t do the same is a puzzle to me.)
Orpheus began with a spirited rendition of the teenage Gioachino Rossini’s overture to his first opera, “Cambiale di matrimonio” (1810), followed by a superb rendition of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Romance No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 50, with Orpheus member Eric Wyrick’s excellent performance of the solo part. Josef Haydn’s Symphony No. 44 started out just fine, but then came the rain after the second movement. When the rain seemed to die down relatively quickly, they rearranged the orchestra to be farther back under the Bandshell overhang before playing the final movements. This repositioning, however, upset the microphone pick-up, as some of the microphones could not really be moved and tested in new locations, so balances were not as well done, and one expects that the recording for later broadcast on WQXR-FM was affected adversely.
Indeed, an announcement was made that due to the weather they would forget about the intermission and go directly to the Tchaikovsky, which would not be recorded for later broadcast. (Obviously, the word from the soundbooth was that the microphone set-up was no longer adequate to produce a broadcast-worthy tape.) Despite the threatening clouds, the orchestra’s rendition of the first movement of the Serenade was excellent. But soon after the dulcet tones of the waltz began, the rain returned with a vengeance and the audience scattered. I headed out of the park, and by the time I reached Central Park West, the rain had largely abated, but I assume they didn’t resume playing, since the rain had been forceful enough to cause the audience to disperse.
It was a shame that the rain forced an early end to what was shaping up as a terrific concert. I am eagerly looking forward to hearing Orpheus again on October 9 in Carnegie Hall when they begin their 2013-14 concert season.