Symphonie Fantastique at the Astana Opera House

I thought I was taking a break from the Opera House, but it seems I cannot stay away for very long. A friend proposed seeing Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, of which I admittedly knew nothing. It seemed like a nice opportunity to hear some new-to-me music and to see something other than a ballet or opera.

After the show, I had to read up on what I just listened to because it seemed a bit disjointed. There were five, very different, movements, which captured some of my favorite aspects of Classical music. One of the things I love most is the beginning of a piece. Many start slowly and quietly; it’s almost as if the orchestra is waking up from a nap and is getting its bearings. I also enjoy the growing intensity and the anticipation of where the next sound will come from. Berlioz’s symphony certainly offered that. In many ways, it felt like one was going through the ups and downs of a day—waking, doing things, having challenges pop up, experiencing a bit of nature, and reaching one’s capacity. I read after it was supposed to be the experience of the artist falling in love and struggling with it, which seemed to fit with what I heard. It was a very string-heavy performance, which was nice at first, but got a bit boring after a while. It was interesting, however, to see all the different ways the string instruments could be played and all the different sounds they can make.

Overall, it was okay. There were definitely a few parts I really enjoyed. I liked the melody of the waltz in the second movement and the entirety of the fifth movement for its intensity. In the third movement, there was a back and forth between a few instruments, which sounded like bird calls (and apparently, that was exactly what it was supposed to be). The drums in the fourth movement were militaristic and intense. The absolute best part of the performance was the cymbals player in the fifth movement—every time after banging them together he took an almost cheerleader like pose that just made me happy, he was amazing! The conductor was also a joy to watch. He looked like a wizard with his wand/baton, and in a way, I guess he was because he could pull and control particular sounds with a simple flick or wave. He must have worked up a sweat as he wrapped up the fifth movement because his arm movements became larger, faster, and eventually led to a helicoptering motion before one final explosive gesture to signal the end.

Before the symphony began, there was an opening act, so to speak, during which an Italian soprano-saxophone player performed with some of the orchestra. Before his last piece, he stopped to thank the audience and make a short speech. He said what an honor it was to play with these excellent musicians from Kazakhstan, Russia, and beyond. He pointed out that “music is a universal language”—especially in these turbulent times, music is a way of traversing traditional language boundaries and offers us a way to connect with one another through the experience of listening to it. This was such a lovely and true sentiment. This again emphasizes the point of the arts which I have talked about before. In a world that seeks to divide us, we should try to remember the values and passions we share. No matter your heritage, language, social status, we can all appreciate and experience music.

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