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A classic night with Prokofiev and Walton

On the evening of October 24, 2013, I attended a performance of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Symphony Center in Chicago. I was extremely thrilled to hear the Chicago Symphony perform since I am originally from India and I had never been to an orchestra performance before.

The performance was of course magnificent. The performance started with Prokofiev’s “Symphony No. 2”, which was about thirty minutes long and then the orchestra performed Walton’s “Symphony No. 1,” which was about 45 minutes. Both the pieces were great, however I would like to focus on Prokofiev’s “symphony No. 2.” The piece has four movements the Andantino-Allegretto, Scherzo-Vivace, Intermezzo Moderate, and the Finale-Allegro tempestoso. According to the program, the instrumentation was solo piano, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones and tuba, timpani, bass drum, snare drum, field drum, cymbal, tambourine, and strings.

I particularly loved this piece for its cadenza. The piano soloist was remarkable and captured everything I had previously read about Prokofiev’s piano solo. This piano solo is known to be one of the hardest piano solo pieces of all times and Gerstein does a beautiful job. I got goose bumps within the first few minutes of listening to this piece. It sounded scary and threatening. The piece seems to be almost like a battlefield where the orchestra is battling against the piano soloist. The minor key and forte dynamics make it frightening. There are a lot of changes in tempo and there are no slow movements at all.

The first movement, the Andantino- Allegretto, open with strings and the clarinet. The notes are staccato and delicate. The piano is in G minor and the movement sounds serious and has an adagio tempo. It sounds like “implacable fate” and “a serious tale in the vein of romantic legend” (concert program).  The transformation of the development section is done by the soloist’s virtuosic five-minute cadenza. It was just amazing. I could not take my eyes off Gerstein. The climax was “colossal” and there is a decrescendo, which gives the music a spooky feeling. The second movement, the Scherzo-Vivace is beautiful and you do not hear a single pause in the piano. The entire piece is polyphonic in texture, but in this movement, the pianist plays non-stop in unison in a homophonic texture. The third movement, the Intermezzo-Allegro moderato is fortissimo which makes it threatening.  The orchestra adds a tensed feeling in the back and makes it “fierce and grotesque” (concert program).  Lastly, the Finale, Allegro tempestoso, is the part that sounds most like a battlefield. The orchestra continues to play the strings with full power trying to win the battle against the pianist. There is a halt and the soloist plays in piano dynamics. There is dissonance in the chords and the soloist begins to play a similar theme to the first movement’s piano opening theme.

Like I mentioned earlier, I loved this piece. It is extremely startling in good way and I would highly recommend this to all music lovers especially people who play the piano. It is a great experience and I would definitely go back to watch another performance at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.   I could not move my eyes away from the pianist and Phillip Huscher describes the audience as “frozen with fright.”


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