Pachelbel's Canon: Every cellist dreads playing it at weddings. Although it's been arranged many times — there's even a metal version — and featured in pop music, the stale and insulting repetition of a two-bar line for the entire piece is almost insufferable to whoever's playing the bass voice.
And this is exactly the reason why David Rogers used it as the material for Euphemism No. 3, a work commissioned and premiered by the Florida Orchestra this weekend. Of course, you would never know it just by listening; Rogers transformed the themes from Pachelbel beyond recognition, but the spirit of excruciating banality remains.
Rogers spread out the tongue-in-cheek torture evenly. The piece makes extensive use of solos and spotlights on almost every section, as if to make sure everyone gets a chance to experience the pain. This is not to say the piece itself is tortuous, but the composer's statement about overexposure to certain works and musical clichés was clear.
It seems no coincidence then that Stefan Sanderling requested the orchestra to commission the work from Rogers. Sanderling has made his views on orchestral repertoire quite clear recently and those views were mirrored the rest of the program. He believes it is not the role of the orchestra to be popular.
Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 1 may not be the easiest listening for some, but it is certainly entertaining to watch for all, especially with Markus Groh at the keyboard. He didn't play from memory but rather read from the score without a page turner, which added a certain level of thrill to the performance. They also removed the piano lid, which focused the sound from the piano less and created a kind of homogenous texture with the orchestra. The result was that it read less like a concerto than a piece for orchestra with a banging piano part, especially considering the highly percussive nature of the work.
The bleak and dreary Symphony No. 4 in A minor by Sibelius followed. Written by Sibelius when he was dealing with the threat of cancer, there's hardly a joyous sound in the work — except maybe the ironic-sounding glockenspiel part in the fourth movement. Principal cellist James Connors was featured prominently in several solos throughout and enjoyed the loudest applause at the end of the concert.
You can say what you like about Maestro Sanderling's abrupt departure from his post, but the man can draw a fantastic sound from the orchestra. Conducting this last series of performances may have been required by contract, but his heart was in it. And at least from the outside looking in, he seems to really care about the musicians of the Florida Orchestra.