The title 'Reflections on War' (slightly different in Chinese: 烽火蕭八) was eye-catching. I read somewhere in a program or website for the concert that it was to commemorate the 70th anniversary of World War II. Before reading up on Liszt's Les Preludes, I wouldn't have seen or heard or thought of any association with war, but it was an interesting contrast, in many ways.
The program was also heavily weighted toward the second half, obviously. While Shostakovich's eighth is a massive work (although slightly less massive than one or two of his others), because of the relative brevity of the first half, it was over quite early.
Liszt's Les Preludes has a lot going for it. It marked the world's first piece to be given the title 'symphonic poem,' is by some accounts the most popular of the composer's thirteen works in the genre, refers to a Lamartine poem (perhaps only in name), and has some tenuous relationship with actual symphonic form in its contrasting sections, just not movements. There's lots of discussion about this piece and what it means/represents, etc. but this isn't the time to talk about that.
It was a charismatic performance of the piece, and while the title Les Preludes sounds nothing like a war piece, the music itself is nearly unmistakably warlike at times. It has its contrasts, and the NSO under Herbig (unsurprisingly) did a splendid job of realizing both the roaring, warlike passages as well as the beautiful pastoral scenes. The piece felt like a triumph. We got the multiple walk-outs and ovation and applause the conductor and his performers basking in the glory of a mildly surprisingly not-packed hall, and that was only the first half.
It was certainly the lighter half, in both mood and scale. The intermission was as long as the first half of the program, and there were some people who knew people and some shifting of seats, with the exception of the balding, combed-over man in front of me whose head perfectly obscured