Thursday, October 05, 2006

All Shostakovich

So last night to the Albert Hall for a dose of Shostakovich under the heading of Cinemaphonia. Fist arrived half an hour early, since I had mistaken the start time. Joined a queue, and found it to be one for people who got free tickets. Hmmm - poor attendance? Then got my own ticket from another desk; asked the lady what was the issue with the free tickets - she did not know. I love well informed customer service operatives (operators?).

Wandered into the hall, and had not realised how red it was - everything from the chairs, the decoration, the lights on those mushrooms in the ceiling.. My other impression was how drab it was; not redecorated for decades, I think. The lighting was gloomy in a bordello sort of way. The arena, which is also often used for boxing matches etc, was particularly depressing; simple chairs placed there with metal bars in the back to hold them in straight rows. The chair legs contained the grime of the last 50 years. The orchestra had similar chairs - a number of them were adjusted with special cushions which the cellists and others had brought to save their backs. Really, these days there are plenty of adjustable chairs for musicians, and a rich country like the UK should afford them. Maybe I am spoilt, because concert halls in the relatively prosperous parts of Eastern Europe are generally recently refurbished.

Indeed, the hall was only 40% filled.

Anyway, the concert contained Shostakovich's 8th string quartet transcribed for string orchestra, and his 15th symphony. These were accompanied a) by film clips from Shostakovich's life, and b) by film clips of general soviet life in the war and the 10 years after the war (was the symphony written as early as that?); mostly of large groups of people doing gymnastics and such like. It was a shame, because the film and the music did not fit well together - might have been better to show the real films that he wrote the music for, with the accompanying music. Son Maxim Shostakovich is not a conductor who sets the heather alight; more a care and maintenance kind of conductor. The string quartet piece came together in the end, apart from a rather ropy solo line by the front desk of the second fiddles. The symphony was very transparent, not at all like the normal 'blast your ears' type of Shostakovich sound that one is used to in Eastern Europe. But maybe the son is more authentic than other conductors? It was not a great concert, and the conductor only really came to life when he called up the individual orchestra members to take their bows.

Afterwards in the hotel (that's why I love UK TV) I came across a Channel 4 production called 'Ballet saved me', or Ballet changed my life. It's part of a series about an 18 month course for 200 'disadvantaged' youngsters who will eventually perform Romeo and Juliet (great for crowd scenes etc). These people have generally not danced before. In addition they also get counselling from a charity called 'Youth at Risk'. This programme was the penultimate of the series, so shortly before the performance in Birmingham (with the Birmingham Royal Ballet). The very main parts are danced by professionals, but most others by the youngsters. Originally each other part was prepared for two or more people at the time, and the better one would get the part (it was not clear what happened to the other ones). However, these youngsters being who they are, had difficulties in turning up on time, or at all; but this was also part of the treatment programme. Using 'tough love' they were warned that if they did not turn up regularly, they would be in trouble/thrown out etc. So one day a list was read out of all those who had been late or absent three times or more - unfortunately this included most of the people picked for major parts. They then had the right of appeal, and all of them won their appeal (what's the point, you might well ask). In the case of 'Juliet's mother', both she and the choreographer were in such floods of tears that they had to abandon the appeals process altogether.

Another guy had to carry out real sword fights as part of his role. Originally his part was to be doubled with a professional doing some of the fights, but the young guy did so well, that he was trained for more and more fights. By the end of the programme, though, the choreographer was still in two minds about using him for all fights in the pressure of the performance, just in case he accidentally injured his opponent.

A fantastic concept and I wish I could see the final of the programme. Maybe it too will come out as a DVD, like 'Rhythm Is It'.