On Saturday evening, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing clarinetist Stanley Drucker perform with the Eroica Ensemble under the baton of Michael Gilbert. Drucker's reputation as an exquisite musician with wonderful technique was obviously well-founded. While the music presented was a bit banal in my opinion, the performance as a whole was excellent. To improve future performances, some attention should be given to the running of the front of house.
The program opened with Mozart's overture to The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492. This delightful piece served as a fitting precursor to the centerpiece of the evening, Drucker's performance of the Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622, also by Mozart. Drucker's athletic arpeggios and scales were dazzling, but most enjoyable was his attention to the long lyrical lines of the piece. This was especially evident in the slow middle movement.
Following intermission, Drucker returned to the stage with Weber's Concertino in E-flat Major, Op. 26. This through-composed work again displayed many of the same characteristics appreciated in the Mozart, only this time on a smaller scale. To close the evening's concert, the Eroica Ensemble played Haydn's "London" Symphony, No. 104 in D Major.
A few questions remain in my mind. One is a question of technique; the other addresses the issue of programming. Throughout the performances of both the Weber and Mozart Concerto, Mr. Drucker would flail his left hand into the air at the end of extended passages. When I first noticed it, I assumed it was a communicative device. As I continued to listen and observe, it became evident that the orchestra continued at each occurrence of the flailing hand without ritardando or accelerando, so it did not appear to be necessary. As I pondered the technical demands of the clarinet -- given my admittedly limited knowledge of the topic -- I could find no plausible technical reason for the movement. In fact, I tend to believe that the extraneous movement may have generated issues that would have been eliminated by maintaining a more stable posture. The only possible explanation I can arrive at is that the flourishes were included to provide visual stimulation for the audience. I found the dramatic inclusions to detract from the music rather than heightening its intensity.
The question of programming is more philosophical. Understand that I genuinely like each piece on the program individually. On Saturday, however, I found myself quite bored by the time the Haydn came around, given the evening's total devotion to music of the Classical era. I admit that this was my first experience with the Eroica, so I may be missing something about their programming practices and philosophies. Personally, I found it incredibly difficult to focus on the concert as a whole -- and Mr. Drucker's playing in particular -- given that everything on program was similar in form and harmonic structure. I don't discount that there are valid reasons for arranging a program in this manner, it is just not my personal preference.
Now to the issue of the house staff. I realize that the evening's ushers were probably volunteers given Eroica's status as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. With this in mind, I commend the staff for their warmth and overall welcoming demeanor. Because of the excellent music coming from the orchestra, I do think there can be some improvements made that will result in a more pleasing experience for everyone. What I noticed is that two ladies in clicking high heels proceeded to cross behind patrons six times by my count during the middle movement of the Mozart Concerto. At no time were they approached by a member of the house staff. I understand that it is not the responsibility of the ushers to instruct obviously oblivious audience members in the finer points of concert etiquette, but I would think it acceptable to request late-comers wait until an acceptable time to locate a seat, especially given the extremely live acoustics of First Congregational Church.
I truly hope that this posting does not convey that I did not enjoy the Eroica concert. On the contrary, I thought the evening was magnificent and commend Eroica for their contribution to the Memphis music scene. As a performer, I take notice of many things when attending a concert. Raising questions does not imply that other wonderful aspects of the evening went unnoticed. The comments strictly are a representation of the issues on my mind as I left the recital hall on Saturday evening.