Sunday, April 29, 2007

Rhythm is it!

I can now ruin my reputation completely and state that I had a few breakfasts with one of this week's soloists and that I cavorted almost naked with one of the composers! But no worries, wives of the affected, honour, virtue and fidelity were preserved.

Last night's concert at the Filharmonija was totally different from last week's Beethoven and Brahms. For a start, we were in the 20th and 21st centuries. And the hall was much fuller - but since one of the soloists was a big band, there might have been many mums and dads, aunts and uncles (as we used to say, when our Ayrshire Symphony Orchestra did concerts with children's choirs - I see they played the 'Snowman' again!!! last year).

The concert went on by chronological order of the compositions, starting with Geoffrey Bush's 1949 overture 'Yorick'. It was a typically English piece, of its period, and I could imagine it as the opening music for a black and white film, especially with the little oboe theme which sounds like some monks scuttling around their cloisters. Then there is the inevitable bright trumpet sound, and fanfares, much loved by English composers of that period. Reminded me a bit of that Elgar overture (Cockaigne?) which we also played lots, and also of the 'Gollywog's cakewalk'. In fact it is a tribute to the comic Tommy Handley, well before my time. It makes me wonder how the Lithuanian conductor related to the piece at all, but they did well.

Rolf Liebermann is a Swiss composer, who worked and studied with Hermmann Scherchen in Budapest and Vienna, where Scherchen ran the 'Musica Viva' orchestra employing mainly Jewish refugees from Germany (until....). From 1957 he lived in Germany, running at one point the Hamburg Staatsoper, and some time later running the Paris opera. Much of his music is kept in the Paul Sacher Archive, itself a fascinating subject for an article. It was Liebermann's concerto for Big Band and orchestra, written in 1954, which we heard next - you would not normally expect that from a Swiss guy? The band was crammed in behind the orchestra, and the piece was quite interesting, with some very big bandy kind of pieces, and some more orchestral pieces. In one of the 8 movements, played without interruption, only the band played, and in another only the orchestra played. The final movement, a mambo, was brilliant and the orchestra rocked, though the conductor did not. It could probably have been played with much more of a swing, but it needs to be conducted that way, and in a big band way, those playing solos could have stood up which would have made it much more fun.

In the second half we had two pieces by Arvydas Malcys, a cellist in the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, who in the last two years has had many of his pieces performed. Not surprisingly, generally they are kind on the orchestra. The first was a VIOLA concerto (1997), played in one movement, and performed by Hartmut Rohde, a well-known German violist, who looks younger every time I see him. The concerto started at what must be the highest note of the viola and eventually drifted back to almost that note. There were moments of minimalism with the same little motifs repeated over and over again, then rather fiendishly slowing down, but also nice slow expressive moments which used well the low pitch of the viola. There was no clear tempo structure, with fast and slow moments appearing interchangeably. The piece ended on such a slow moment, where the orchestra played long extended, and unchanging notes - it sounded good but was dead boring for the musicians, as you could see with the number of closed eyes! Rohde's viola was well audible throughout the hall - at the beginning I thought he had serious issues of sound and intonation, but things settled down after a brief period.

The concert ended with Malcys' concerto for saxophone and orchestra (2004), with Liudas Mockunas as the soloist. Seems to me it was a soprano sax since it did not look that different to a clarinet. Mockunas is a jazz musician, and gee, what a display! Virtuosity? You've never heard anything like it! I wonder what he might have been like as a violinist or viola player. This was quite a jazz concerto constantly changing beats and rhythms which resulted in the conductor's hands almost in a knot; the structure of the concerto was relatively traditional, though. The piece seemed to start on a children's song (I don't know many Lithuanian songs) and then developed into an explosion, a fireworks of sound. I can't believe that the composer wrote all those notes! Especially in the cadenzas which were just a blur of fingers and notes all over the place! Even the orchestra was agog, although they must have heard this during rehearsals. Here the orchestra parts seemed a bit more interesting.

Afterwards there was a huge reception type do, funded by the German ambassador, who, like his predecessor, and his colleague in Tbilisi, is a great patron of the arts in Vilnius - you see him and his wife at all events. Why can't we Brits make them like that? Never mind the nosh, it would be nice if they simply turned up at some cultural events - it's good for them, and in countries where culture is still valued highly, good for the image of the UK.