When I was attending the University of Notre Dame back in the 90's, I used to drive up from South Bend - occasionally with friends, usually alone - to hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform in Orchestra Hall. Those experiences - particularly in my senior year when I made the 90 minute trip no less than six times - laid the foundation for my sustaining interest in this music. For a kid whose musical tastes had previously been confined to classic rock, the experience of hearing a world-class orchestra perform live was like having the paint stripped off your walls.
The CSO has been through some turbulent times over the past few seasons: namely, the graceless resignation of Daniel Barenboim and their continuing search for a new Music Director, now going on three years. Their interim principal conductor - Bernard Haitink - is pushing 80. This weekend, they had to deal with the unexpected with drawl of guest conductor Myun-Whun Chung, citing personal reasons.
But the CSO is still a great orchestra, and can put on a great performance regardless of who's on the podium. This was the case last night, when Alexander Polianchko, an unknown conductor who previously performed with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, led the CSO in a concert of chestnuts: Beethoven's Creatures of Prometheus overture and First Piano Concerto, and Tchiakovsky's 4th Symphony. The orchestra sounded well, but Polianchko looked nervous and uncertain throughout. Most of the musicians appeared rarely looked in his direction.
The concerto was played by Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski, who matched the orchestra in class and brilliance. The Tchiakovsky was appropriately bombastic, but left me wondering why the CSO would choose to perform a work you might hear from a regional orchestra any given night of the week. Shouldn't we expect more of an orchestra of this caliber?