It’s been nearly two years since the Corvallis-OSU Symphony Orchestra last performed in front of a live audience – “two years in purgatory” is how Marlan Carlson, the orchestra’s conductor and musical director, described the shutdown prompted by the COVID pandemic.
So you might be able to imagine how Carlson and the orchestra’s musicians are feeling about their return to the stage Tuesday night at Oregon State University’s LaSells Stewart Center.
“It’s tremendously exhilarating,” Carlson said. “All of the players are just ecstatic that they’re back playing music and playing with each other. … It’s fabulous to get back.”
It’s also a time to reunite with old friends, and that’s what Carlson has in mind for Tuesday’s concert, which reunites him with pianist Alexander Tutunov but also calls on a pair of well-loved pieces to mark the return to live performances.
The orchestra’s “All Russian” concert features Tutunov, who teaches at Southern Oregon University, who will perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. In the second half of the concert, the orchestra will perform Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.
Carlson estimates that he and Tutunov, a longtime colleague, have performed the Rachmaninoff concerto together a dozen or so times, including at concerts in China and Sweden. “We’ve been to this rodeo several times,” he said.
The Rachmaninoff concerto – among the composer’s most enduring pieces – has inspired popular songs such as Frank Sinatra’s “Full Moon and Empty Arms” and Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself.” So it’s not unusual for a pianist or conductor to work hard to find a new twist or two to highlight in the old warhorse.
Carlson understands the impulse, but he prefers to let the music speak for itself.
“Look, this great music is great and it’s in everybody’s minds and hearts for a reason,” he said. “You know, it really plays itself. If you start fussing with it too much to make it your own, then it’s oftentimes at the cost of the music.”
As for the Tchaikovsky symphony, Carlson ranks it high on his hit list: “It’s a great symphony. I guess I would say, of a half-dozen symphonies, if I was to label them perfect, this would be certainly one of them.”
The symphony, he said, “starts out very dark, Russian dark, and ends up just triumphantly. … Then the third movement is just a light little delicate sort of waltz. It’s just so tender and sweet” – so much so, that he had to advise his musicians to turn it down a notch: “You guys are just playing too hard, this is just a sweet little tender thing, like a little flower in the meadow. You can’t just bang away at this thing.”
“And then, of course, the last movement really is very hell-bent for leather … This symphony’s got everything. You want it? You get it.”
The Tuesday night concert also features Glinka’s overture to “Ruslan and Lyudmila,” which will be conducted by Elliana Phillips, an OSU conducting and viola student. Carlson is thrilled to hand over the baton to Phillips, in part because it highlights that the Corvallis-OSU orchestra is a teaching orchestra, featuring as it does more than 70 students – students who often are “just first-rate players.” (The student players are fortified by a handful of professional musicians.)
The orchestra springs back into action in just a couple of weeks with a holiday concert, scheduled for Friday, Dec. 3. Other concerts this season include a March 3 performance featuring Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 2, with Jessica Lambert on violin; and a May 24 performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 10 – the eighth Mahler symphony the orchestra has performed in recent years.
If You Go
WHAT: The Corvallis-OSU Symphony Orchestra in concert.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 23.
WHERE: The LaSells Stewart Center, 875 SW 26th St. on the Oregon State University campus in Corvallis.
HOW MUCH: Tickets are $26 and can be purchased by clicking here.
NOTE: According to OSU campus requirements, patrons will be required to wear masks and show proof of COVID vaccination or a negative COVID test upon entering. All seating will be general admission (no reserved seats) to accommodate social distancing. Click here to learn more.
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels.