Monday, September 24, 2007

Singers and teeth

I am not talking about Giorgio Pressburger's weird and funny book 'Teeth and Spies' ('Denti e Spie') which is set in Hungary of the last 50 years or so, and involves a great deal of dentistry (you may not wish to read it while undergoing such treatment), but I'm talking about singers.

Tonight's opening night concert of the 'Autumn Tbilisi' Festival featured a choir where no teeth were visible, with the ladies in particular going to all sorts of contortions with their upper lips to cover their teeth. (A singer in Vilnius also covered his teeth, though fairly naturally, to such a degree that we wondered if he had any teeth at all. He later became the culture minister, then left under at least one very dark cloud involving personal use of public funds - I'm not talking of his salary). Now, you can understand this in a country where you have to pay for every bit of your dental treatment (though in an OU TV programme recently a very fine-sounding singer was also, alas, a fine symbol of NHS dental treatment), but an American girl in my Monday singing group, who naturally has very nice teeth, also does this. It looks so uncomfortable and so unnatural. Are singers not supposed to show their teeth? Is it a hangover of the bad old days?

Anyway, tonight's concert, conducted by Vaktang Kakhidze, started with Haydn's London Symphony - something of a tired rendering, and ended with Cherubini's Requiem - a good subject for the opening of a festival, no? It was the Cherubini's premiere in Georgia. You may be surprised - be not! I was at the Armenian premiere of the Dvorak violin concerto in about 2003; it was not one of their finer efforts, and I am not sure you can call it a premiere, given that they only played two of the three movements - and did the Austrian soloist, who had just presented the orchestra with an orchestra-wide set of Thomastik strings, not run out of memory as well?

Vakhtang Kakhidze is the son of another conductor and trained by his father. Now I am not sure if I saw his father in Vilnius five or six years ago. That conductor had some strange movements, as does this conductor, who at one stage looked as if he was in front of 'double double, toil and trouble', trying to see through the fug what was in the pot. But Georgians move differently where music is concerned - just look at the dancing!

He did nicely on the pianissimos, particularly in the Cherubini, but oy veh, great music this requiem is not. There are no soloists, and the violins don't play for quite a while. The orchestra rushes into the Agnus Dei when all you want is for the little lamb to be at peace, what with it shlepping the sins of the world anyway. It was a lovely touch, though, to dim the lights at the end of the requiem - the fact that this came with a rather audible crack was neither here nor there.

The violins, considering there were 26 of them, did nicely on the pianissimos because it seemed they could not play really really loud; maybe I was sitting in the wrong place, but the choir, way at the back of the stage, drowned out the violins. Do they have strings issues? When I saw the size of the band I was worried about the Haydn - his music isn't usually played by such a huge group nowadays, but the lack of sound compensated.

I was not that inspired to use up my other tickets (except that for Giorgio Kharadze which I still have to get), but I see tomorrow it's Beethoven's eighth symphony, and on Wednesday it's Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings, which I'm studying - I could bring the score along!

(Today only the young women beside me were checking the pictures in their camera, and a baby cried - which even caused the conductor to turn around. Otherwise it was really quite quiet).