Friday, April 06, 2007

Hands up!

Two hours after touchdown in Vilnius yesterday I had bought the first concert and theatre tickets; I'm now getting brave about theatre in Lithuanian, seeing I've done theatre in Georgian of which I know four words.

Tonight's offering was the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra, with Alexandr Zemtsov, viola - VIOLA -, and Alexandr Vedernikov (head of the Bolshoi Theatre orchestra) conducting. A very tiny band of the orchestra started off the evening with Haydn's 49th symphony. Haydn? In this orchestra? I was astonished, and pleased to see that a longtime stalwart of the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra was sitting at the front desk of the violas. At least he had lots of experience playing this stuff. The cellos were reduced to 3, as were the basses (probably two to many). This symphony's structure is in the old baroque sonata style, slow, fast, slowish, fast, so it takes a while to crank up. They did get going and they did not do too badly; they were good on the dynamic contrasts, and the final Presto was quite fast. To my horror, there was no applause at the end of the piece! The conductor had thrown his hands in the air (which he did at the end of every piece, it turned out), and it took a good few seconds for people to applaud. Astonishing! This audience does not do chamber orchestra concerts, but even so, the orchestra's managers were in the audience, they should have started the applause. I was stunned by the audience reaction, but eventually started it up...

Zemtsov's rendition of the Bartok viola concerto, which all (Lithuanian) viola students play, was very good. At times he was drowned out by the forces of the now much larger orchestra; the theme of the second movement could have been a bit more haunting, but he really launched himself into the last movement, the tempo of which rather impressed the viola students in front of me. His viola (his playing) produced a beautiful tone (as do all well played violas!).

I thought of leaving at the interval when I saw that the final piece was a Janacek cantata, 'Amarus'. But then, when would I be able to hear it again? Better add it to the collection. It's written for large orchestra, choir, a tenor and a baritone soloist (though parts have also been sung by women; depends who you can get on Good Friday evening, I suppose). According to this NY Times review it's about the unhappy life and death of a monk. Part of me wanted to leave because I noticed that it consisted of all slow movements, but then I peered at the music on the orchestra's stands and thought that it could not last too long. And indeed, some of the movements were taken at a fairly brisk pace. The cantata was sung in Czech which looked like it gave a few problems in the faster moments. The soloists did well, and sang very competently - it's not one that people have in their repertoire, like Bach or the Verdi requiem. I wish though that the baritone had not been busy moving his music stand up and down between doing his bits. Very distracting. What's wrong with holding the music in your hands?

The piece itself was fairly conventional, an early Janacek; with the final movement having no singing in it at all - reasonable, I suppose, after the protagonist died. I noticed the benefits of my music studies (and the score reading practice), following the different voices and their togetherness or otherwise. It was advertised as having five moments, but I, and it seems, most of the audience, only counted 4 - so there was another stunned silence at the end of this piece.