Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Kitsch as kitsch can

....as my dear Mama would say. Sweet ...ing Jaayyyyzus, as my friend Noel would say. Overpriced and over here, as someone else might say.

What am I talking about? The concert of a series of two of the group 'Georgian voices' at the Tbilisi conservatoire. It's ok, they are over.

Georgian voices, or Kartuli Chmebi, is a group of 9 male singers who sing Georgian poliphonic music. Which is of course difficult, and they, like Basiani, sing very complicated songs, including those with yodelling. The yodelling, which obviously is very high, was done by the only guy with a beard - probably like another baby-faced friend of mine, his wife would not let him shave it off.

Their singing was great; the usual, more complex Georgian songs which my singing group would not be capable of, the dynamics which my group does not do - it brays instead, the yodelling - oh, forget the yodelling. They were wonderful! Great group to have around.

Though Basiani is better, what with being multitalented; see this review of their concert in Vilnius. Basiani can not only sing, they can also play instruments and dance, even if the dances were a little symbolical. Real Georgian dancing - oh vey, it's seriously fierce, especially that of the men. But go to any theatre in Tbilisi and you get hints of it.

Anyway, four things really really got on my wick:
1. There was an old man acting as compere, introducing the singers and giving thanks to the sponsors and so on, as is the case in many Eastern European concert halls. But, as is also the case with old men in Eastern Europe, give them a microphone and they are off - verbal diarrhoea - if it were physical, he'd be in a hospital on a drip. So endless talks between the songs. (And let's not forget that there was no break in the 1.5 hour concert - people might not have expected that).

2. There was a choir of about 60 boys between 6 and 16 who suddenly popped up in the middle. Must be another Eastern tradition - in Vilnius we have the choir Azuoliukas ('acorn') with a similar number of boys which gets wheeled out now and again in serious concerts - with usually far too many boys for the piece in question. Anyway, these boys, dressed like the men in the black dress coats with rows of 'bullets' along their chests and a dagger at their waist, and a white neckkerchief so big that it tied around their waist at the back, then burst into Mravalzhamier (a good luck or congratulation song) - it was only the second time that evening that it was sung (but not the last!!!). It comes in a zillion different versions - this was an excruciating westernised - bastardised - version which should not have seen the light of day. Cringe-making it was.

Of course, it's the old orchestra management trick - and I've used it myself - bring in a large children's choir, and all the grannies, aunts and uncles, mums and dads will buy tickets. Not sure about the 'buying' part in Georgia, what with general cash flows. But guess why 'The Snowman' is so popular with amateur orchestras in the UK - rehabilitates the cash flow every time!

3. Then a piano accompanist appeared. In a concert of Georgian music? This is where sweet ****ing Jaaaayzus appeared. Joannas do not belong into Georgian music unless they are female, human, and they sing it. Anyway, a boy with an ok sort of voice sang a solo, accompanied by the choir. The joanna was rather overpowering, but we got through it.

Then another group appeared, an instrumental group with folk instruments, including various kinds of plucked/bowed string instruments (whose bowing, even though they were playing the same harmonies, was somewhat random, as at times was their intonation - eeek), some flutes of the up-and-down variety, and a 20-stringed portable harp which looked like a window box ready for the sweet peas - its contribution to the sound was not great. They played quite nicely, generally.

But then came cringe-making moment No 4.

4. A female appeared and sang a song with two males, accompanied by the band. The band played an introduction that was pure Austrian folk music; then they burst into song, properly in 3 voices as is the Georgian polyphonic wont. But ye gads, what was this? It was 'Suliko', the popular alternative Georgian anthem, just different words, and the notes took different turns. Rhythmically and harmonically it was absolutely the same thing. If you know Georgian polyphonic music and you know 'Suliko', you know that if ever you are looking for an example of musical 'cliche', you have just found it. Suliko is a poor man's version of Georgian music (I know, because I've harmonised it in different ways and then realised why musicians don't like it). It's like Bruch writing the Scottish fantasy - someone else's idea of what a country's folk music should be like. Add to this the slushy accompanyment and it was seriously apple strudel with walnuts (for the Georgian flavour) and lashings and lashings of custard, cream and icecream, all at the same time. Yuk, yuk, yuk.

And we paid 20 laris for this when for half the price we could have got a very nice (not necessarily tasteful, but nevertheless nice) theatre performance for half the price. Now I know and I don't need to go again. If the guys just did their own singing, it would be fine...maybe you need to hear them abroad where they cannot afford to bring all their hangers on.


carpetblogger said...

When I was in GE last summer, up at Kazbegi, a group of four or five workers who were remonting the church and monastery started up with the singing to make the day go faster I guess. To sit at that fantastic location and hear the poliphonic singing-- even by amateurs pouring cement -- is really something special.