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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Arrangitis

First concert last night since I don't know when. Was away a lot and some of the Filharmonija offerings were not that interesting.

So it was the Camerata Klaipeda with their leader/founder Vilhelmas Cepinskas, the pianist Guoda Gedvilaite, and the violinist (and leader both of the Camerata Klaipeda and the Kremerata Baltica) Dzeraldas Bidva, with a light to middling programme.  The Camerata Klaipeda is a very young orchestra, with very few, if any, players older than 30. It generally plays without a conductor, though if Cepinskas plays the solo, he makes some attempts at conducting. Otherwise Bidva leads it, very ably indeed.

It started with Chausson's concerto for violin, piano and string quartet, arranged for string orchestra. This is one of those French pieces which I hate, very melancholic, with not that many ideas, going no-where in particular. The first movement was called 'décidé'; the music might have been with that one motif, but it did not really come across. Quite often I could not hear the violin soloist over the rather metallic-sounding piano. The piece filled the first half completely, and I was glad when it was over. And contemplated going home.

But I am glad I did not!  The second half was rather a mixed bag; starting with Chopin's Andante spianato and Grand Polonaise, arranged (?) for piano and the orchestra, who occasionally threw in a few chords. Seemed a bit of a pointless arrangement. The Chopin could have been played with a few more rubatos - it was played rather strictly according to the beat.

This was followed by Ysaye's short symphonic poem 'Exile' (apparently he spent part of the first world war in London), written only for violins and violas. The viola leader had a wonderful tone and lots of interesting passages. The piece was all right.

Then we had Paganini's 9th and 24th caprices, arranged for string orchestra. A cynical soul might say - so it takes a whole band to play this solo violin piece? The first arrangement worked better, I thought, though the second one had a few rather funky moments. 

Gershwin's two pieces for two violins and string orchestra, arranged by Bidva and played by himself and Cepinskas, plus the bassist in the front row, were wonderful. The two soloists had a lot of fun and Cepinskas in particular was really good at the jazzy sounds (he said something about Grapelli when talking about this piece).

Finally they played a Moldovan dance, 'Hora' with some awesome fiddling by Cepinskas, and a small tete-a-tete with a young female violinist, as part of the dance's story.

And of course encore after encore, all quite funny. The band really plays with loads of energy and enthusiasm. I was trying to compare them in my mind with the Lithuanian chamber orchestra - and failed to do so. I hope the Camerata Klaipeda gets lots of engagements at home and abroad.


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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Season ticket for the Berlin Philharmonic!

You may be thinking - has he come into money? Is he going to fly to Berlin for every concert? Has he moved to Berlin??

Nothing of the sort! I've bought a season ticket for the digital concert hall, which will transmit every Berlin Phil concert via the internet, live, and it can be watched on the computer, or linked to the stereo, or whatever. Complete with closeups of conductors, soloists, you name it. Brilliant or what?

Now all I need to work out is how to wire up everything to avoid having to peer down my laptop.

Sod's law of course suggests that I will be in some country with poor internet connections....

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Brinkmanship or a real danger?

Here the Baltic Times reports that following the proposed budget cuts in the state's austerity budget responding to the economic crisis, the Vilnius Capital of Culture may, er, not happen.

This is the new government under Mr Kubilius, the conservative prime minister, who I have seen in at least one concert (before his temporary corruption-related downfall), and maybe even in two, in the nearly 8 years I have lived in Vilnius. The proposed cut is 50% of the year of culture funding (total state funding was supposed to be 40 million LTL or about 11.7m Euros, not exactly major stuff).

It seems like cutting off your nose to spite your face; I don't want to repeat the figure, which I have repeated ad nauseam, about the economic impact of the Edinburgh Festival on the economy of that city - where it brings in many times what is spent in subsidies. If the year of culture crashes, it will be such an embarassment! Surely it is an investment into the future popularity of Vilnius and Lithuania as a tourism destination, and goodness knows when the chance will come round again.

But maybe people are playing political games. Let's hope so. The organisers of the Heifetz violin competition to take place between 9 and 15 January must be having hysterics at the moment.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Lessons learnt...

1. Get thee to the Filharmonija on time!  On Wednesday, the evening of my return, I thought I had left the house early enough to slide across the ice to the Filharmonija - but got there, it seems, too late. 19.03 their time, 18.58 on my watch - and the computers were off and no ticket could be sold (even though the lady was still tidying up her cash desk). Are those computers shut off centrally on the stroke of 7 pm?

2. Check the programme. So last night I togged myself up and wandered over to the Filharmonija for the usual Saturday night concert, not knowing what was going to be played, but ready for a surprise. This I did get - just as the box office lady was about to print out a ticket I clocked the words 'Frank Zappa' on the concert heading. 'Nej tak' as the Swedes said to atomic energy.  Another nice evening stroll.

Add to that tonight - the Filharmonija's booklet mentioned a chamber music concert, not one I would have wanted to rush to for a pressing need, more for a sense of duty.  But something stirred in my memory - last night I had not seen any posters for this concert in the box office. I checked the website - right enough, the concert is cancelled.

You need to watch them like a hawk!

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Worthy of Agatha Christie!

In the venerable, though perhaps not as venerated as it was once, Burgtheater of Vienna, the show must go on... even after an actor cut his throat on stage!

It was part of Schiller's Mary Stuart, when the actor, Daniel Hoevels, had to act a suicide on stage. Unfortunately it was a real knife that came to his hands, not a safe prop knife. The audience applauded the very realistic (and very real) gush of blood, only realising that something had gone wrong when he did not get up for his applause.

Was it an accident? Was it planned? The busy criminologists of Vienna are on the case. Read all about it here.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dip Mus (Open)

Passed my second music course - not as well as I had hoped, but only 3% got the top mark. So that's ok. Now I gather I could use the above letters after my name, should I be so inclined....(I'm not).

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Monday, December 08, 2008

How to take care of your violin....

as they do in Australia, reported here..

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Colonic Irrigation!

Noooo, not mine!

Jackie Kay, it seems, has written a wonderful poem about Maw Broon and her new health kick. See here. Glad it's the top story in Scotland on Sunday today.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Geringas sick?

According to Lietuvas Rytas, David Geringas has cancelled a couple of concerts in Vilnius due to sickness. Let's hope it's something trivial and that he will get better soon. (A few years ago he did play a concert just after having some bug, and it was not so good. Probably made the right decision).

The replacement in the State Symphony Orchestra's concert on Friday is young Lukas Geniusas, the pianist. Not sure about that....

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

The beat of the feet

Here the Guardian reports that movements by people, including their heartbeats, can create power. (In the case of the heartbeat this could be used to power pacemakers, removing the need for regular battery-replacement operations - hmm - but the pacemaker is there to stimulate/manage the heartbeats?).

Makes me wonder about creating powercells to harvest the power created in concert halls. Presumably acoustic vibrations could also be converted into power? You could then link it to the hall's lighting system and the light might go up in the Symphonie Fantastique and shrink in Bach's solo cello suites (no-one performs those from sheet music anyway).

Then in the Vilnius Filharmonia you could place power harvesting cells under the seats - people are noisily shuffling their feet all the time. In the place where people meander during the interval, under the entrance doors and the doors into the toilets (as they already do in old people's homes where sensors check if they are moving about (and thus alive)). Never mind the conductor's rostrum, into the timps (so they could tastefully light up from the inside....). You could place tiny cells into the right-arm sleeves of string players, windblown generators into brass instruments....

People using keyboards (roughly the whole world, counting computer keyboards) could use gloves with sensors....

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

If only I could have heard her!

Diana Galvydyte, tonight's soloist of the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra's concert at the Filharmonija, conducted by the venerable Juozas Domarkas.

The Lithuanian Ms Galvydyte is quite young, and rushed off to the Menuhin School in 2000; though now she's a student at the Royal Academy in London. Nearly four years ago she won third prize at the Heifetz competition which took place in Vilnius, playing the Prokofiev concerto. She's good at contemporary music, if you can call Prokofiev that.

Tonight's programme was more conventional; Chausson's Poème, a popular and very languid piece, and Wieniawski's 'Fantaisie brilliante' on themes from Gounod's 'Faust', a bit of auditory cheesecake, usual vehicle for violinists to show off their skills, including the compulsory fireworks using harmonics and so on. When Ms Galvydyte played solo, she produced a beautiful sound, warm, though with rather non-varying vibrato (maybe it was the period of music that she chose, but at that period vibrato was still more used as an ornament than continuously - listen to Joseph Joachim's recordings). Intonation was perfect, everything was beautiful, almost too beautiful - at the opening of the Wieniawski there was a place on the G-string which she could have played roughly, like 'dirty'.  It needed a bit more personality, and more dynamic contrast. Unfortunately, when the orchestra joined her, we could only see her play, not hear her. Whether it was the 'fault' of a rather limited projection or of the conductor not keeping the band under control, I could not say.

This was followed by Durufle's requiem, written in 1947.  I may have to revise my theory that only composers in countries that have no wars write peaceful music; could not really say that about France (the peace stuff, I mean). Then again, I wonder if it had something to do with it being written just after the war, trying to get some peace into the place.  It is a highly conventional piece, almost romantic (50 years after its time?), though it has interesting moments, including something like Gregorian chant in places, and including a harp (played by the very young Agne Keblyte), an organ and a celesta. There were as many, if not more, wind players on the stage than string players, whose sections were very slimmed down. Some of the sounds just drowned - I heard the celesta once, the organ now and again, and occasionally the harp. It's something about French 20th century music, of this style, that you just get a carpet of sound, rather than themes going round the orchestra. Sometimes it sounded like a guddle, though.  The piece was supposed to contain a baritone soloist, who I never saw, not even when at the final bows - the mezzo, Jovita Vaskeviciute, sang very nicely - she has an amazingly dark voice; is she really a mezzo?  I don't really know the piece, so don't know if the band played well, or the interpretation was right, or not - the violas again had a nice solo, and the solo cellist (the chap who plays in Musica Humana) did a wonderful obbligato accompanying the soloist in her one aria.

Lots of French music over the last week or two; does not do me any harm.  Now I am off to Tbilisi - I see the opera house is planning some charity events for children displaced by the conflict (you know which one I mean). One day someone will think of doing charity events for the old people displaced by the conflict, or those who have picked up a psychiatric illness as the result of the conflict. Would they get as much money for these groups?

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

No Muti for Mutti

Apparently Riccardo Muti and the Philharmonia Orchestra (London) were supposed to play at Prince Charles' 60th birthday bash this Thursday. 

Alas, himself and Themselves (Mum and son) could not agree on the music - it was 'too long, complicated and inappropriate'. Yes, well, what would you expect. Rocks and hard places?

Recently, at Vienna airport, I was closer to Mr Muti than I would ever be in a concert hall. He was on one side of the glass wall (for the Zurich flight), I was on the other (Astana flight). He is very good-looking, and quite wee - would have fitted in well with the Royal Family.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

A weekend of Indian music

will take place in the Mokytoju Namai (Teacher's House) in Vilnius from 20 - 22 November, starting at 18.30 each day. I know, I know - I should go, having studied some of the music in my course this year. Then again....maybe I will go to one....

I see that most of the musicians on the first evening are Lithuanians, or at least non-Indians. This guy Anatolijus Lonomosovas (not quite a Lithuanian name) is very involved in Indian music (and in all three concerts); I wonder if it is his effort that started this.   For a country that is so 'differentphobic' it's amazing how much interest there is in this music - whenever there is such a concert, it's packed out. The length of some of these pieces, and relative lack of musical interest and structure, unless you know what you look for, is quite challenging to the average person who might be more used to pop music. (There is a structure in Indian music but you probably need to know about it).

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Silk isn't as smooth as this!

Håkan Rosengren's clarinet sound, that is. It's just, wow! A totally seamless transition from nothing to pianiss-issimo to louder - the clarinet was just breathing! No strident notes here.

On Saturday night he was playing two (too short) pieces in the Filharmonija with the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra in a programme of French and Swedish music, conducted by the talented Robertas Servenikas.

Started with a very nice Rhapsody by Debussy (you know me, I was not much of a Debussy fan) which gave the impression of 'a month in the country'. Beautiful, melodic, not just shimmering stuff like you would normally expect from Debussy. This site suggests that by the time Debussy wrote it, he had 'outgrown his youthful rebelliousness' - I'd say. A very pleasant piece, sounding quite romantic, and very beautifully played indeed.

Ernest Chausson's, no, not the Poème for once, symphony in B-major followed, starting with what sounded like a church hymn; heavy brass, large orchestra sound, as the French liked it during that period (think Berlioz).  It was its first performance in Lithuania; the violas had some lovely moments, as they had done last week - they really are lucky in getting music like this. So did the cellos, but they did not produce the viola group's lushness. (I noticed a new cellist in the group - Ruta from the St Christopher Orchestra - is she subbing or did she need a change?).

Rosengren joined the reduced orchestra again for Martin Willert's piece 'Hallucination', written in 2003 - and the Swedish composer was in the audience. It seemed tailor-made for Rosengren's soft, gentle sound, making huge demands on his technical skills - how does he do that, playing two notes at once (one a kind of harmonic, presumably)? Overall, it was a very slow piece and the 3 movements played as one kind of blended into each other, so it was finished kind of before it had begun (probably lasted 10 - 15 minutes).

Finally Hugo Alfvén's Swedish Rhapsody No 3. He lived from 1872 to 1960; this piece was written in 1931, but clearly Schoenberg had passed him by; it is thoroughly romantic in style.  I sometimes wonder if countries that do not have wars or internal conflict produce more peaceful music. Adorno might agree with me, I think. This piece was a bit like  Grieg's Holberg suite with lots of folk melodies, but played in one movement; with some  'grotesk' moments, it says in the programme notes. I did notice something like a donkey braying - midsummer night's dream memory? Also that a sopranino saxophone plays a solo at the beginning and end. Did not notice that one, but did notice how beautifully and lightly the violins played - they got it just right.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Glorious Papa Haydn!

On a slightly life-changing journey the other day, involving 8 hours on a bus there and back, my Ipod suddenly decided to stick to my complete set of Haydn symphonies, recorded by Adam Fischer and the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra. Sounds like a life-time project, no?


Haydn is amazing! One tends to think of him as a lesser Mozart (some of his early string quartets are a bit dull for the viola), but the amount of imagination, surprises, developments, and new ideas that have gone into his symphonies (when you listen to 8 hours of them, one after the other), really is amazing. Considering he wrote at a time when music was only getting inventive, in terms of surprises and contrasts (baroque music tended to have one 'affekt', ie mood, per movement); though on the other hand Haydn did live a loooong time, during which music changed greatly. 

If you ever plan to get stuck somewhere for a long time, get these CDs.  The band plays with amazing enthusiasm, refinement and delicacy - imagine making this recording, of 104 symphonies!

My only problem is, I don't know how my Ipod got stuck on this - I would like to repeat this with other composers. Usually it stops at the end of a CD, or it shuffles around, but some mysterious click happened as I put it in my pocket, and I've enjoyed non-stop Haydn ever since.... 

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Bags of enthusiasm!

One can never accuse Algirdas Vizgirdas, the director of Musica Humana, of lack of enthusiasm - he bounds onto the stage like the cat that got the double cream, produces encores at the drop of a hat and generally wheedles his crew into playing more, and more, and yet more.


Tonight was the second concert in a series of celebrations of Vivaldi's 330th birthday.  Surprisingly, it was in the Filharmonija at 7, rather than, as usual, in the Lutheran church at 6 - where I might have rushed to, had I not looked at the website at the last moment.  The Filharmoija's stalls had the audience tastefully sprinkled throughout it.

It was all Vivaldi, then, 8 pieces, plus 3 encores - one before the interval! I made a point of standing up and leaving after the second encore in the second half, and the band, who had been playing standing up, were also much in the mood to go.

It was a nice mixture of pieces, though; a few I did not know, which helps. Seems some Vivaldi is played all the time, and some not at all. There were three 'symphonies', 3 movement pieces (and you thought Haydn was the Papa of symphonies, no? - but he wrote 4-movement symphonies!).  They were nicely played, though some of the contrasts could have been greater. Also there was some breakneck speed - edge of seat stuff. 

Ieva Prudnikovaite sang Psalm 126 (in 8 movements); for a prayer I thought some of the introductions were a bit brisk (Vivaldi's fault, not the orchestra's).  She has a very dark and rich voice, and I wondered how it might have sounded sung by a boy.  She followed it by an aria from the 'Gloria' where I wish I could have understood the words better - I am quite good at liturgical Latin, but the 'qui sedes at dexteram Patris' always ended up a bit of a mumble.  Got the 'miserere nobis' though.

Then there were three concertos; the first was for violin 'and its echo' (RV 552). Here the group went a bit over the top, with planting the echo just outside the stage entrance (with the stage manager wandering about behind it). This did not do much for the sound quality - though again, which echo has a perfect sound quality. I thought the player on the stage was a bit uncertain rhythmically and in intonation, just slightly.  And in the slow movement the 'echo' could have ornamented her version of the same line; I know it's not exactly the function of an echo, but it would have made the movement more interesting. Overall, this is rather a dull piece, with a very pedestrian first movement.

Very young Simona Vaitkeviciute then solo'ed in the concerto for piccolo and orchestra - we all know it well. I've heard it live twice before; once with Evelyn Glennie and the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra in a vibraphone (or marimba) version, the last concert ever under Saulius Sondeckis, and another time with Michala Petri on recorder and the St Christopher Orchestra quite a few years ago.  I would have expected Ms Vaitkeviciute to play it from memory; I mean, how many piccolo concertos are there in the whole repertoire?  But I think she might have been nervous, seeing as at the end she shot off the stage without thanking the conductor or first violinist. She played totally securely and nicely, though. Maybe there could have been a bit give and take in terms of tempi, particularly in the slow movement, but generally it was fine.

Finally Robertas Beinaris, without whose solo no Musica Humana concert happens, played the oboe concerto RV457 (in F major).  A concerto which I had never heard before, and which sounded a bit odd - but with amazing virtuosity. Beinaris held a long, very high note in the second movement - it was to die for. 

And then all those encores.  

I was a bit surprised to see a bassoon in the band, playing along in everything, including symphonies and concertos requiring string orchestras plus harpsichord only (poor harpsichord, it was audible once). The bassoon stuck to the bass line, I think, which is a justified use, though not, I would have thought, in a string orchestra. All seemed a bit pointless. Did he just want to have a go?

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Grim, grey, depressing

....that's what the UK was between 1945 and 1951, according to David Kynaston's wonderful tour de force 'Austerity Britain' which had been lying around half-read for about a couple of years. One of the benefits of smoking are the frequent breaks from other things, and for reading....


It's an amazing book, all 632 pages of text. The amount of research that has gone into it is amazing - I was extremely impressed at how he had got hold of all those personal diaries, until I discovered that people used to send their diaries to the Mass Observation.  It's an amazing resource of bits and pieces of insights into people's lives. And lives is mostly what this book is about; the impact of rationing, housing shortages, lack of everything including heating after the war, but also some politics and economics. It's so interesting reading about some young up-and-coming politicians, eg Arthur Scargill (no politician, no?), Jim Callaghan, the young Harold Wilson whom someone promised not a very great future.  There are the battles over the establishment of the welfare state, the nationalisation of industry, the building of houses (flats) and demolition of old slum-type housing (read that and you understand slum clearance), the experience of the first post-war blacks in England (all 1500 of the new arrivals by the time the book finishes, and the fear of being over-run).

And you thought that sociology only came into being into the 1960s? Wrong - apart from Mass Observation, there was a chap called Ferdynand Zweig who seems to have talked to every worker under the sun during the period, and lots of others.  Many of the fears of the late 1940s still exist, like of the young ones, of crime and disorder - 'with this deterrent [capital punishment] gone, no woman will feel safe in London after dark'....following nationalisation, there were 'too many men walking about in hats' (ie management) - what would those people say now, when they see the health service... 

The funniest thing is the language - jeez, how English has changed over the last 60 years - you mark my words!

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

The pianist and the pineapple

The Filharmonija was only half-full tonight. Shame - they missed a great performance! Even worse - the concert was broadcast throughout Europe, but thankfully only on radio.

The Lithuanian National Symphony orchestra, under the delightful Modestas Pitrenas, started with Barkauskas' Konzertstück No 2. A fantastic piece in three parts, which opened with a blast of an ascending motif by the trumpets which was then passed around the very large orchestra, including two ...xylophones (metallophones? could not see). This was followed by a more lyrical middle section; the end had a different ascending melody, more of a scale, but which still resembled the first motif. A great piece for opening a concert!

Edvinas Minkstimas then joined the orchestra for Bartok's third piano concerto. Very Bartok, opening with a vaguely familiar folk melody; the second movement made me think of a Sunday evening in a village, with the sun slowly going down, some of the village people singing a hymn in a village church....The final movement seemed more 'modern', moving some way away from folk music.  I wondered what Adorno might have thought of it, and whether he would have approved - he was not really into incorporating 'folk music' into Serious Music. Minkstimas played beautifully - the orchestral forces had been reduced, and I wondered if that was a good idea. The first violins sounded a bit lacklustre at the beginning of the first movement, and did not seem to match the pianist's energy.

Finally Prokofief's fifth symphony. It reminded me of Russian film music (which I love - Shostakovich's 'The Fall of Berlin' is quite something else). This could have been a story of a young man from a remote village who goes into the city to work in a factory - the second movement (which I know quite well) could have been a wonderful setting for him looking wondrously all of city life, from thousands of people doing gymnastics in a park to the relentless and ever-faster pace of factory work. The third movement might have been him returning to the village, but with city ideas and finally, at the end of the last movement, he might have realised that life will never be quite as it was, and he might be suffering a never-ending conflict in his soul, trying to combine his village outlook with the pressures of city life.

The orchestra came into its own in this piece, with particularly the viola section in the second to fourth movements pouring lashings and lashings of warm dark chocolate over the rest of the orchestra. Welldone, Arunas! The standing ovation was well-deserved!

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Apologies....

So for the last fortnight in Vilnius we've had wall to wall contemporary music concerts - but how many did your correspondent visit? No more than two....

Sorry about that, folks. I've been frantically busy with writing, rewriting and yet again rewriting a statistical report on Georgian children in children's homes, with a deadline of yesterday - and it's still not finished. Apart from an unexpected plenitude of medical appointments, studying a statistics course and a course on identity with writings by French philosophers and psychoanalysts that make my eyes meet in the middle.

Also, the fact that I now buy standing room tickets, which are not always available in advance, means that I do not have a pile of tickets looking at me reproachingly, forcing me to go out. And in particular I also resent paying those 3 LT for bilietai.lt who these days have a monopoly on selling tickets for some events.

Then again, last Saturday I was all ready to go to the Filharmonija, when I looked at the website and found that there was no concert. Anywhere in Vilnius. It was 1 November, when all Lithuanians, including musicians, visit the graves of their ancestors - and most of these graves seem to be in villages.

Will do better.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Ananiashvili

I did not realise that Nina Ananiashvili, the inspired director of the Tbilisi State Ballet Company at the Opera House there is still dancing at the American Ballet Theater (sic) - she is well into her 40s.   That explains all the kind reviews her company received when they toured the US earlier this year.  But here it says that next year she will give her farewell performance with the main role in Swan Lake.


Given her history both with the Bolshoi and the ABT (a wonderful company who I saw at the Met some years ago doing a modern 'Cinderella') she has a huge amount of credit abroad. If she now manages to bring her young dancers up to standard (and the signs are good) life for her dancers could become very exciting indeed!

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Monday, November 03, 2008

My viola's in 'The Strad'!

Well, almost.

October's Strad, which spent a month lying at the post office, but has finally made it here, has a series of articles about China, it's up and coming string players, and its string instrument manufacture; an article written by David Hume, who it would appear, was at last year's viola congress in Australia together with me.

He writes about a number of companies, and their considerable interest in improving their quality. One of these is KG Instruments, from whom I (somewhat impulsively) bought my 38 cm viola after the congress. It was played at the congress in a comparison of about 35 violas, and did well - in fact it has a clearer sound and better projection than my more expensive German viola (at about a quarter of the price). Does not smell as nice as the German fiddle, though....

The Strad also has a nice article about a festival run by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, in the East Neuk of Fife. This year the Skampa quartet also participated - a wonderful group who I heard play in London a year or three ago.  The SCO has always been a fantastic little orchestra - that festival might almost be worth a trip over there one day.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

A big band

So I had not been bothered to go shopping. What to cook tonight? I pulled a piece of fish out of the freezer, but then what to do with it? I do a mean fish curry, but eat curries quite a lot - and for fried fish I did not have potatoes to accompany it. Finally found a recipe for Japanese fishballs - it was only half-way through preparing them that I found I did not have many key ingredients for that either, like minced pork, a potato and something else.....but I can improvise....As I sat down to eat, found to my horror that it was less than half an hour to the start of the concert! A time at which I usually leave for the Filharmonija. Then someone phoned me in the middle of my meal....

Was contemplating not to go, since I still had to buy a ticket. Bet the concert involved Peter Eötvös, whose work I have heard much about - he has a huge reputation. Also the Ensemble Modern from Germany, a fraction of which I had come across in Tbilisi about a year ago.  So off I sprinted with 19 minutes to go, and got there in plenty of time. The hall was about half full (many, many foreigners) - the stage was very full. Of instruments. It made me contemplate the difficulties of being a contemporary musician - this group came with a load of instruments which would have put a pop group to shame. Most of it percussion.

The evening began with Michel van der Aa's 'Mask'. A fairly quiet, contemplative piece, though it also involved much rapid playing, in snatches. The bass, which opened that piece, at one stage hit a very virtuosic moment. The percussionist was the quietest percussionist I ever heard. One of her instruments was a table on which were stuck a number of stretches of tape - which she proceeded to rip off, as a sound effect - though sometimes that was almost inaudible. The audience in the hall might not have noticed at all (I now always buy standing room tickets, and always get a seat at the front of the balcony, straight above the stage). She also played some tiny cymbals with a bow, but again that was almost not heard.

The next piece, Peter McNamara's 'Landscape of diffracted colours' (I think, the programme on the website mentions one Chong Kee Yong, but the composer did not look like one) opened like the Beethoven violin concerto (though the timp was replaced by a bass drum), had a snatch or two sounding like 'Vlatava', some beautiful romantic piano playing and some stunning oboe playing between the usual snatches of contemporary music. As if some virtuosos had gone missing in the depth of the Aussie bush (the composer is Aussie), or were contemplating a sunset there. The piece lasted 8 minutes 13 seconds - I know that because behind the conductor's music stand was a computer screen showing the timing - critical given that there was an electronic input. Though how difficult must it be to stick exactly to that time? Film conductors are probably used to it - but a future musicologist could not compare performances eg by the duration of it, as they often do these days, eg in the case of Roger Norrington (the fastest Beethoven conductor in the West) and others.

The first half ended with Eötvös' 'Octet plus'. The octet consisted of a flute, clarinet, two bassoons, two trumpets and two trombones - the latter four using many mutes. The way the mutes were inserted, especially the long slim ones into the trombones, made me think of sex.  In addition there was a singer, who sang some of the time, or hissed or made other noises. Those few words that I picked up 'everywhere', 'always', 'forever' sounded rather banal - more suited to pop music than serious classical music. The instruments played generally in groups of two, with no soloistic interludes. It was interesting, though I would need to hear it again a few times.

None of the pieces did much for the emotions; they were all very interesting, and also very intellectual - but then I suppose these days pop music has taken over the responsibility for emotions. Ah well.

Eötvös was the conductor of the evening - he looks like a comfortable smart German academic, and the way he conducts makes me think he would make a good accountant or neurosurgeon. The most precise conductor I have seen for a long time - but it's probably needed for this music. 

Coming to the end of the first half, I suddenly began to wonder if I had turned off my cooker under the second batch of fishballs I had been preparing. My mind was fully on the concert job, obviously! So I had to leave - and it was good that I did, only finding some charred remains in the pan...

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Starting with a bang!

(Late addendum; it seems the programme published on the website had the pieces in a different order in which they were played; I wish they would not do that, especially when we (probably) have to pay to get a programme...order is now corrected in the review; see comment).

This year's Gaida festival of contemporary music is combined with the World Music Days, a festival of contemporary music that takes place in a different country every year. Why it is in in Vilnius the year before the European Capital of Culture year, God knows. Next year it will take place in Sweden; in Goeteborg, Vaexjoe in middle Sweden and on Gotland.

It means non-stop contemporary music for the next fortnight. Bit of a mixed blessing, but useful for those of us who try to study music. Last night's concert at the Filharmonija involved a very large version of that National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the senior Juozas Domarkas, with Petras Geniusas as the soloist. And a very interesting programme it was, too!

Yuasa Joji's 'Cosmos Haptic V' was wonderful! It was the one that started with the bang, and involved much complicated percussion throughout the piece, magnificently played by one of the band's percussionists. In some ways it reminded my of the sea interludes from 'Peter Grimes' - there was a theme in the middle which seemed very similar to a motif that appears in that opera. The piece came and went, and told a story - it was really great, and began the evening's trend towards massive applause for the composers.

The next piece was one that did not come and go, and did not tell a story. Ligeti's 'Atmospheres' (am I beginning to detect a cosmic theme?) was simply a soundscape; it was strange, because it had a huge and very busy looking score, but for the entire duration nothing much happened. Apparently it had been worked on by Vytautas Jurgutis, but not knowing the original I cannot say what he did. Now that I know about these things I can just be with the music, rather than expecting changes. It was ok, but perhaps nothing to leave the home for - though you could imagine it working quite well as the background to a nature film (eg a long film watching clouds passing slowly over alpine peaks - a sunrise would be too exciting, or if you needed one of those calmness and relaxation moments).

Oscar Carmona's 'En dehors II' was a more lively piece, with much complicated playing - with an electronic part which was essentially like a thunderstorm. Was this the piece where a flautist rushed from the piccolo to the alto flute? Reminded me a bit of Holst's 'Planets', but of course only a tiny bit.

Finally we had John Adams' 'Century Rolls' piano concerto. The audience reaction afterwards was interesting; many people liked it, others dismissed it as 'entertainment music'. Well, folks, that's the nature of American music. I wonder what Adorno would have made of it. It was kind of a mixture of minimalism and jazz (and blues??) progressions, with the first movement firmly centred on f-sharp. No, I have not suddenly got perfect pitch - I was sitting above the pianist, and could see his fingers stuck around that note. The first movement was also extremely tricky rhythmically for the orchestra, but they hung in well - though at the end the first violins petered out a little (partly intentionally, but not entirely). The other movements were fairly conventional, one slow, one fast with much frantic playing, and the pianist having the rhythms driven into his shoulders. I found it very interesting, musicologically speaking and am glad I had the chance to hear it. John Adams is one of the key composers in the US these days, ever since his opera 'The Death of Klinghoffer' - how many readers remember this event? Two words 'Achille Lauro'....

At the reception afterwards some chap from the American embassy did a most impressive speech in Lithuanian, reading from a script, but pronouncing very nicely.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!

If you are in Tbilisi, go, rush, run to the Opera and Ballet theatre to see Jiri Kilian's ballets. And make sure you stay right to the end! You will not regret it!

Last night the premiere took place of 'Jiri Kilian's Ballets'. Jiri Kilian was of course the inspired leader of the Nederlands Dans Teater - his productions were always wonderful. Last night's performance combined two of his choreographies, 'Stepping Stones' and 'Sechs Taenze' with two other choreographies performed earlier this year and reviewed here (the piece with the pianist and the violinist, and 'Georges Bizet'). Otherwise the evening would have been quite short, but there was a bit of a difference between the quality of these two and those by Kilian. Still it's worth going.

'Stepping Stones' interested me not least because it is set to John Cage's music for prepared piano (and a bit of Webern). Both of which I studied recently, though I don't think I heard any of the prepared piano pieces. The piano was prepared by inserting things between the strings here and there, to get a different sound. Actually, it was the reaction to being unable to get a percussionist when Cage wrote it. But it's very effective - and here it was played on tape. The choreography was awesome - Kilian puts so much detail into it, tiny sideways movements which one almost does not notice, incredible composite movements and positions by two or more dancers - and the dancing was great. There were still problems with synchronicity; but in modern dance it is not always clear whether they should move at the same time or whether they should be a beat apart; this could perhaps have been clearer in this performance.

The final piece, six (short) dances to music by Mozart, was brilliant. A total comedy! Women in white dresses, the guys in white knickerbockers with white, very powdered wigs, did a series of exuberant boy/girl love trouble comedy routines à la 'Amadeus' (the film), very much making fun of themselves - absolutely no 'beautiful dancing', but hilarious! Don't miss it!

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Flipping heck!

My friend here in Tbilisi was muttering something about 'some Czech Ballet company' coming to Vilnius this weekend. Just had a look at the programme.

She got it slightly wrong. In fact it's choreography by the wonderful Jiri Kilian with music by John Cage (prepared piano stuff) and Webern, both of whose music I have studied recently plus some Mozart.  The dancers are Georgian, and there are some great dancers about.

I'm going! Will I be able to get a ticket???

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Trumpet

This is a wonderful book by the black Scottish (lesbian?) adopted writer Jackie Kay, who grew up just over the water from us (Dunoon way?). I would not normally go into someone's private affairs this much, but the book is about a black Scottish transsexual trumpeter, who gets married and adopts a son - some parallels there....As it happens, the trumpeter, Joss Moody, comes from Greenock, where another black Scottish guy I know was born...(port city, you know).

Joss Moody does not get much of a speaking part in this book, given that he is dead and only lives on in people's memories. The thing is that it is only when he dies that most people find out that in fact Joss Moody was a woman. The doctor who comes to sign the death certificate (Moody hated doctors and hospitals, so died at home) finds some bandages around his chest, and under them discovers some perfectly formed breasts - then she looks down his body....; the undertaker, the lovely Bangladeshi registrar, the guy's son, all find out something new about Joss. Then it hits the media and his wife flees the marital home to a wee cottage in Scotland.

The story is lovingly told in a series of little vignettes, from different points of view - and paints extremely sympathetic pictures of all who are involved in dealing with this situation. Even the son, who initially agrees with a tabloid journalist in 'telling it how it was' (how can he, seeing he thought his father was a man) and who at first comes across a bit as an arse (though he perhaps has reason to be angry), eventually becomes quite likeable. The author's descriptions of Moody's trumpet playing are awesome - I wish I could write reviews like this!

There are some logic gaps, though - how could Moody get married as a man? Even in 1955 I am sure they would have needed his birth certificate (Josephine Moore). His mother, who is finally tracked down by her grandson, lives in a sheltered housing scheme in Greenock called 'Larch Grove'. In Scotland, in public housing a name like that? I don't think so - 'Rankin Court' or something like that would have been more appropriate.  It never becomes clear what caused Moody to live as a man - childhood photos show him in a dress (but he was born in 1927, different times, different place).

The first page of the book was a bit hard, a bit irrational - but it was the widow's first days of widowhood, while the media were camped outside her house - this reflected her despair. But I am glad I persevered; it really is a wonderful, wonderful book - especially also with the references to places in Scotland I know and love! Must look out for more books by this author!

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Monday, October 13, 2008

The Lithuanian Chamber orchestra (almost) at its best!

Apart from the programming soup (neither the programme nor the pre-concert announcement matched the order in which the pieces were played) and the conductor's, Georg Mais, wardrobe malfunction (luggage went missing? Black open-necked shirt, street shoes needing a clean, dark blue [or black? - I find it hard to tell those colours apart] lounge suit, or possibly different jacket and trousers) it was a great concert for the chamber orchestra last night.

Starting with Schubert's 8th overture (which according to the programme should have been Smetana's Quartet No 1, but actually, the sound of Smetana is unmistakable) this had some strange divisions in the violas - sometimes the leader had a solo, sometimes the lone guy in the second row - could not work that one out.  It went well, as did the Mendelssohn 8th string symphony which followed it, in which the violas also had major solo spots. Alas, whisper it, these were a bit lacklustre - I hate to say it - the notes were right, but they were just played, without much emotion. The first violins were at their very best, with lots of zip and zest and energy - this was great.

Nurit Stark joined the orchestra for Schubert's Rondo in A major for violin and strings; this is a lovely piece and she and the orchestra were having a lot of fun with it. I did not care that much for her use of the open e-string just after the beginning, and somewhere else - not sure if that is entirely Schubertian, or was she trying to be historically correct? Our view of what is Schubertian is probably formed by lots of romantic performances....There were a few glitches in terms of attack, but it was a lovely performance. For an encore she played a Mobile by (?) Kuzmin (?), a modern piece involving lots of fast runs up and down the violin, but in two voices, running in parallel or towards each other, with a hair-raising set of runs in harmonics at the end. Amazing stuff!

Finally we had Smetana's quartet 'From my Homeland'. A familiar, and beautiful piece (research topic - nationalism in music). Again the violas had a major input, and again it lacked bite, particularly in the second movement motif which could have been more aggressive. The other instruments, picking it up, did better at it (though at one moment the cellos sounded too beautiful). But overall it was again an energetic and very lively performance. Well-done the chamber orchestra.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

How would Rakhmaninov have played it?

Last night's concert at the Filharmonija featured Rakhmaninov's third piano concerto and Shosty's 8th symphony (the latter I missed due to a birthday dinner - not mine).

It was preceded by a Filharmonija club meeting. The club is a group of Filharmonija aficionados who get a talk and a wee glass of wine before the concert, and drinks with the artists after the concert. For a price. For which you do not get reduced price tickets to the concerts.

Anyway, the meeting started with a bit of Gershwin music played by Povilas Jaraminas, showing the photos of the most recent club picnic, which I would have loved to have been at, but  had to rush off to Georgia that day.  Looked like it had been fun. This was followed by the talented Agne Keblyte, aged about 14 (?), naturally with long blonde hair like all harpists, playing a romantic theme and variation on the harp, and very well, too; totally in control, with nice dynamic contrasts, clear identification of melody lines and so on.

Finally the conductor, Christian Knapp (who seemed to speak fluent Russian) and the pianist, Vadim Rudenko, appeared for the ritual interview. Alas, and unfortunately like many Filharmonija interviews in this scenario, it was a total 'Dame Edna' interview. The interviewer talked and talked, perhaps very amusingly, showing off knowledge and information - but the interviewees barely got a word in edgeways. Not the way one should interview people.

The piano concerto, a thoroughly romantic piece, was a fitting beginning for this year's season of the National Symphony Orchestra. Rudenko played in a very relaxed way, but also totally in control; the conductor and orchestra responded well to his rubatos; the ending brought the house down. I was wondering if the tempo of the slow movement was slow enough - there seemed little difference to the first movement.I also felt sorry for the trumpets and trombones, who got to play a little in the final bars of the piece, but otherwise were just sitting around.  I also wondered how Rakhmaninov would have played it - this year I have listened to some of his recordings, which are early-20th century, with very free treatments of rhythms, arpeggiated chords etc. But if anyone now plays a piece like that, even Rakhmaninov's own, they would be laughed out of the hall. Makes you wonder what sound Rakhmaninov had in his head when he wrote his music.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

L'amour

No, this is not a personal story...sadly...it was the theme of last night's concert in the packed Grand Hall of the Music Academy (which is not used to having a packed hall, mostly), consisting of French and Italian love cantatas plus some harpsichord interludes. As befits the Banchetto musicale festival, part of which this concert was, it was all performed on original instruments (or modern copies thereof), including a harpsichord, viola da gamba or cello, a theorbo, and baroque oboe, plus a young soprano singer, Agnes Alibert from France (definitely not a copy of an old instrument - would they have used a woman or a castrato singer in France at the time? In Italy they would have used a castrato....).

At this stage you might be looking for an analysis of the differences between French and Italian baroque music (which exist). I could also be saying something about appoggiaturas in singing and cadence points. Well, you ain't going to get that; I was too far away from the action, and there were many and continuing distractions around me during the concert. (The harpsichordist, Imbi Tarum, will remember trying to get the audience to quieten down every time she played a solo.) Also I had lent my programme to some young boys and did not get it back. (One must encourage the young 'uns!)

I know these pieces need a harpsichord, but neither the harpsichord nor the theorbo were particularly audible when the gamba/cello and oboe were playing.  The theorbo seemed particularly pointless, though it was nice to look at.

Generally the performances went very well, and reflected clearly the joy and the pain of love. The singer smiled non-stop and expressed the songs beautifully, though there were the (very) occasional intonation problems and the playing style was appropriately 'historically informed'. Could not understand the words at the back of the hall, and it took to the end of the French part of the programme to clearly identify the singing language....I wondered whether the oboist had at one stage mechanical problems with his instrument; it sounded a bit blocked. Also it sounded flat to my ears, but that's probably because the tuning would be more like a=415 rather than the higher modern tuning. The difference in sound between an old-style oboe and a modern one was quite noticeable.  I think our Robertas Beinaris could have played the oboe with more character, more singingly.

The harpsichord did come through loud and clear during the two harpsichord only interludes, some pieces by Rameau in the first half and Scarlatti's version of La Folia in the second half. All pieces were dripping with ornamentation, trills all over the place.....I always think that the theme of La Folia is too short, and that it goes into the variations too fast, but there we are. Scarlatti's variations, using two manuals (did they have those in Italy at the time?) were very virtuosic indeed.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

What happened?

Strange St Christopher's Orchestra concert last night. Usually the band bounces with energy, but last night it was somewhat listless, almost uninspired. 

It was the closing concert of the Latin American culture days, though only one of the pieces performed was written by a Latin American (Villa-Lobos), with the other pieces by Spanish composers. All, although 20th century music, were relatively conventional pieces - not a 12-tone between them.

Starting with the Bachianas Brazilieros (no 9), a pure string piece, and a wonderful solo by the viola section. This was a very sentimental piece, without many of the rhythms associated with music of that continent. They played nicely, but lacked zing. Turina's 'Torero malda' ('malda' is a Lithuanian word, not in my dictionary) ditto.

Then we had Rodrigo's 'Concierto Andaluz' for 4 guitars and orchestra, with the Baltic guitar quartet (which recently gave masterclasses in Iserlohn, Germany) as the soloists. It went better, though I thought some of the orchestra was particularly hesitant in the accompaniment (first violins). Did the trumpet sound flat? The quartet played well, and I have rarely heard a descending scale played with as much feeling as in the second movement of this piece. I kept looking for the little footrests that guitarists use, but I see they had the guitar equivalent of a violinist's shoulder rest screwed onto their instruments (a leg rest?) - a heavy-duty metal affair - do guitars tolerate this interference with their body more than violins? Here the guitars were amplified which was an improvement on the previous evening's unamplified baroque guitars.

The final piece was De Falla's 'Nights in the gardens of Spain', with the delightful Vadym Cholodenko as soloist (his third concert in Vilnius in three months). He played wonderfully, and the orchestra followed him obediently. I was not convinced of the piano line in the composition - much of it,with lots of right-hand playing only, sounded as if it should be played on guitar, but it seems it really was written for piano.

The amount of applause matched my conviction about this concert. Apparently it was being recorded - for commercial release? I would be very interested to read reviews of this recording. Bit of a shame, really - the orchestra can do so much better.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Flamenco and Co

Last night's concert was sold as 'Flamenco and 16th/17th century Spanish music'. The little word 'and' was the one I overlooked, and perhaps others, too, in the packed St Catherine's church. (I now need to rethink my entire review....)

The United Continuo Ensemble of Germany performed this Fiesta Española, together with Mercedes Hernandez (soprano), and the singer, dancer, castanette player Elva La Guardia. The instruments consisted of two baroque guitars, sometimes replaced by modern acoustic ones, a viola da gamba, and various pieces of percussion. The music ranged in fact from the 15th century to the 20th or 21st (the latter having more of a flamenco flavour).

This then explains why there was a soprano singer, Mercedes Hernandez. I was confused because her voice did not fit flamenco; it was too high and had constant vibrato... which means that I am not sure that it fitted the old non-flamenco music much either. She did have an amazing pianissimo, however, and sang well. Some of the songs sounded just like Dowland lute songs, except that most pieces also had a percussion accompaniment.

The pianissimo was very useful, given that it was really hard to hear the baroque instruments (in the 11th row where I was sitting). It's evidence, I suppose, that at the time these pieces were written concerts took place in more intimate surroundings where you could actually hear them.  The gamba had a rather dull part, mostly, often only following the singer's line, or providing a continuo background - there was one quite virtuosic piece, but the playing was so fast, and the string response rather slow, that it was not really possible to pick up the intricacy of the music - you just saw the player working very hard.

Elva La Guardia, on the other hand, was brilliant - sang with the right flamenco voice, gave commentaries which I could not hear, and danced, with or without castanets, sounding like pistol shots, actually more like machine gun fire.

The audience was there for the flamenco, as was I, and the applause reflected that very clearly.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Mrs Bach?

Interesting article here on a theory that Mrs Bach (Anna Magdalena of that ilk) may have composed some of Johann Sebastian's pieces.

She was well-known as his copyist, but the Australian conductor and academic Martin Jarvis thinks she may have a lot of his pieces, including his cello suites.

Hmmmm.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Being blasé...

...is not always a good thing (is it ever?).

I wandered into my music exam today (my 21st OU exam), armed with my favourite fountain pen and as always a couple of emergency pens. Was a bit annoyed at how finely the British Council cut the time - the invigilator and papers arrived only 5 minutes before the exam (there's a lot of administration to be completed), and then, a few seconds before the exam started, she started reading out (in a very thick accent) the exam rules, which people do not usually do. I was watching the clock and not listening, and a minute after the exam should have started, I stopped her reading....

....only to find out half way through the third question out of 4, that writing in green ink, as I was doing, was not really the done thing (we should only write in black and blue). Apparently she had read that out....Keep fingers crossed! It may have something to do with duplication of our answers.

Then, at the end, I left with the question paper in my hand (which I also should not have done), but realised that in time to return it to the Council.

Hmmm. Not sure if I will manage a distinction in this course; by the end of writing (I could still, this minute be writing) I had just had enough; they were boring questions and all - though at least I did not have to use the music manuscript paper which I had been appalled to see at the beginning; cannot imagine what that might have been for. But last year I also finished about 40 minutes earlier and got a distinction. Watch this space.

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Kamchatka!

Picked up this book by Marcelo Figueras I don't know where. Munich? It's in German, but an English translation exists, too - at a price. Of course it should be available in Spanish.  It's wonderful!

I should have twigged that a book by a guy with a Spanish name, apparently about a remote Siberian region, is not what I might have expected. In fact, it's about Figueras' childhood, in Argentina, during the period of the military coup (1976).

Figueras' parents, a lawyer defending many human rights cases and a university scientist, are, effectively, dissidents and as the military coup approaches, life becomes more and more difficult for them. They and their family have to leave Buenos Aires in a hurry and hide in a cottage at the edge of the city, also changing their identities. The story is told from the viewpoint of 10-year-old Marcelo, who sort of understands, but not entirely. His little brother, known as 'the dwarf', who likes very strict routines, understands even less. After a while normality sets in, Marcelo joins the religious village school (before which he has to cram religion, given that that was never a topic in his family's life). An older boy, Lucas, appears and lives with the family - it seems that he may be part of an underground movement.  The parents eventually return to work, though after a while the mother is sacked.

Figueras describes beautifully the changed situation, as the young boy grasps it - which includes mysterious phonecalls, sometimes having to flee again, relationships with his grandparents, his friends and his brother.  The parents seem to be wonderful, very loving and very engaged in making sure that the children are all right. They drive what sounds like a lime-green 2CV (aaaah, those were the days) - something which perhaps the average lawyer's family might just laugh at.  The mother (the 'Rock') appears to have a talent for everything except housekeeping and especially cooking, the father engages much with his son despite presumably having many troubles of his own. 

In between Figueras drifts through considerations of the history of the earth, astronomy, religion, Houdini (he finds a book on Houdini and tries to emulate him) and other topics. Sometimes these hold up the story line a bit, but perhaps, from his point of view at the time, not much else was happening within the family.  Much of the story focuses on the inner life of this little boy who is quite happy to share it, and discuss it, with his parents and his big friend Lucas.

The book ends not entirely conclusively, rather obliquely in fact - the future of his parents is not entirely clear. (Or perhaps only too clear?).  An afterword would have been nice.

I found it really interesting to read about a country and a period I know very little about. It's also very funny. What has it got to do with Kamchatka? You'll need to read it to find out!

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Something funny about baroque trumpet concertos?

Last night saw the opening of the winter season at the Filharmonija - at last! Unusually it was the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra who opened the season, rather than the National Symphony Orchestra. Unusually, too, the hall was packed and furthermore unusually, the soloist was a trumpeter, Andrei Kavalinski from Belgium(?), playing at least 2, if not three different sizes of trumpet. Usually the soloists tend to be string players or pianists.  Nicholas Cleobury from the UK conducted - can't say I had heard of him before.

The programme covered baroque, classical and romantic music, with Albinoni's trumpet sonata in C major and Torelli's (well-known) trumpet concerto in D major at the baroque end. I'm not that keen on baroque sonatas, given that they have two slow (and often not very interesting movements), and start slowly. But here we were, and the sonata's first movement ended almost before it had begun.  In both pieces the trumpet did not play during the slow movements!  I wondered about this, and whether it had something to do with the trumpet technology at the time the pieces were written. At that time trumpets did not have valves, and could not easily do chromatic stuff - which might have been necessary to add ornamentations to a line which might not have been very interesting without them.  The fast movements were fine, though I thought the phrasing was a bit gappy in the Torelli; it could have been more joined-up.  The final trumpet piece, a 19th century concerto by Amilcare Ponchielli had been written for trumpet and wind (brass?) band, and was arranged for trumpet and strings instead. Musically, it was icecream music; fairly cheesy stuff for the accompanying strings. Not convinced that the transcription was entirely successful, either. Reminded me of Paganini's 'Sonata per la Gran Viola' for viola and strings, where the accompanying band just adds background to the soloist going crazy. This Kavalinski did, with gusto - it was clear that this kind of stuff was more his comfort zone - it was brilliant.

The other two pieces in the programme were a Haydn symphony (43) and a Mozart symphony (29), interspersing the trumpet pieces. It's odd to hear symphonies in the middle of solos! The Haydn was ok; the ensemble was slightly ragged at times, and there were quite a few moments where there should have been a general pause - tension building and building - but they played almost straight on. This may also have been the fault of the audience who, during the first half of the concert, applauded rather too often. Someone commented to me on that during the interval, but on the other hand they come and pay, and they will learn. And they had learnt by the second half of the concert.

The Mozart, on the other hand, got a blistering performance by the orchestra. Taken at breakneck speed, even the slower second movement, it was edge of seats stuff - and the orchestra coped well. Cleobury seems like a nice and energetic guy, full of smiles. Does not do this orchestra any harm.

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

'Incessantly my poor heart laments'

This was the parody mass by by the 'Franco-Flemish' composer Pierre de la Rue (1452 - 1518) performed today in the freezing Franciscan church by the German a capella group 'Amarcord' from Leipzig. (A 'parody mass' is a mass that is based on material, at times by other composers. I ask myself then if Berio's piece using a movement from Mahler's second (?) symphony could be described as a parody piece?).

Not having checked this out properly, my heart sank a little when I saw only the music stands for singers. But there we are. I was also surprised that the movements of this mass were interspersed by pieces from the Moosburg Gradual (1360), but the reason for this soon became clear.

The mass consisted of highly complex and polyphonic, imitative and very melismatic music - I can see why my music course states that music became simpler towards the 16th century. In music of this period performance directions like dynamics or
rallentandos don't really exist, so the notes themselves just had to be
interesting.  Sometimes I felt that de la Rue had put in a change in harmony as an afterthought, when suddenly on the last note a harmony changed. 

The gradual pieces were unison plainchants and/or antiphons. Had just one programme half been composed of these, it would have been rather boring  (they will forever remind me of the description as 'moaning monks' by Wendy Craig in 'Butterflies' about 25 years ago). This way the total stylistic difference between the pieces made an varied afternoon's concert.  I was impressed that the group of 5 men managed to sing in unison, given that the total of their vocal compasses ranged very wide (though one was effectively a countertenor, who could also sing a normal tenor voice).   It was interesting that in the mass both the Gloria and the Credo started with a solo singer stating the main theme ('Gloria in excelsis', 'credo in unum deum'). It reminded me of something - maybe some English church singing, or a later mass by another composer?

The singers sang beautifully, though I felt that entries were at times a little ragged; also the diction could have been better - consonants were a bit thin at times making it difficult to understand the words; I believe the Sanctus starts with an 's' and the 'excelsis' ends with an 's'. I felt sorry for the singers who were not half as warmly dressed as I and must have been chilled to the bone. But it was a very interesting programme, and something else to add to my exam preparation. It was nice to see, too, that the church was pretty full (85%) for a Saturday afternoon, and not many people left during the interval.

NB - the concert was free - who paid for it?

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Am Ende kommen die Touristen

After a small debate with one of my readers about the deluge of holocaust literature, last night I found myself watching a German film set ... in Auschwitz.

It's a strange little film which does not seem to be going anywhere, much like the main character, Sven. Sven is a young German who is sent to carry out his civil service (alternative to military service) working in the Auschwitz youth hostel and museum.  It's quite common for young men to go abroad to do this - in an obscure corner of Russia I once met a couple of such guys working with children with disabilities.  More normally they work in German hospitals and social institutions, which without this low-cost workforce would probably face much more severe financial problems than they do already.

Sven's job, frankly, is that of a gofer. He is assigned to look after an old man, Kchimsky (in his mid-eighties) who is a camp survivor and whose job it is to maintain and restore the suitcases that were left by the Auschwitz victims on the way to the gas chambers. Sven takes Kchimsky to his physiotherapy sessions, and to events at which Kchimsky talks to young people about his time as an Auschwitz 'resident'. In between Sven helps out here and there, and regularly, because of language problems and inexperience, gets himself into trouble. At one stage a group of young German apprentices (in Poland??) sets up a memorial in a village which formerly had been Auschwitz III. Kchimsky speaks at the opening, but is cut short by the company's director - and Sven's protest about this is not much cared for.  It makes me wonder how many locations in and around Auschwitz have similar memorials planted by well-meaning Germans....

There's a vague love interest, too, when he moves in with a female colleague and her complicated brother, but this falls apart when the colleague gets an opportunity to study abroad.

It was quite interesting, particularly seeing how busy Auschwitz is with tourist buses etc, but generally I felt much at a loss like Sven. But it was a short film, so that was all right.
 

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Friday, October 03, 2008

How could I have missed that?

At a loose end last night I looked at the cinema programme - nothing interesting. Then popped briefly into www.bilietai.lt and discovered that the Banchetto Musicale festival, an early music festival, was in full swing, with two Monteverdi 'madrigal operas'.  Now, intellectually I find Monteverdi very interesting, but emotionally his music does not set my heather alight to any great degree. But next week I have my music exam, which may also cover Monteverdi, so I thought I'd better go. Bit strange that the announcement mentioned singers and actors, and that it was in the puppet theatre. But maybe they could not afford to pay for the Filharmonija hall?

The theatre was packed, with many people standing, for the fourth performance of the pieces in a week - full of young people and even some young children, including a babe in arms. Had some doubts about that one, but they, like me, were totally mesmerised.

It was a puppet show! The singers were standing on a podium high above the stage, the band could not be seen, but the puppets did the acting - and they were amazing!

The 'combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda' was a slightly mournful piece for three voices and a four-part band (unusual in Monteverdi's time) describing, essentially, a battle between two knights. The knights were represented by life-sized armoured arms, legs, bodies and heads moved separately by several puppeteers each. In the course of the battle the bodies got divided many times, losing arms, legs, the head, sometimes only having legs or bodies, sometimes ending up in a body-part soup, sometimes just swords flying.....Among the singers I recognized Edita Bagdonaite and Mindaugas Zimkus (I think). The singing was fabulous, as was the accompaniment. There were Lithuanian surtitles, but I did not have time to look at them or try to understand them, watching the action all the time. Wikipedia tells me that this piece includes the earliest known uses of pizzicato and tremolo - I remember the second one, when a knight was a bit scared.  But still, musically, it was rather mournful; mainly recitatives with a fair amount of melismatic writing - I wondered whether these were written by Monteverdi or added by the singers or the editors of the music.

This was followed by the 'Ballo delle Ingrate' (Ball of the Ungrateful) - an incredibly funny production.  Some clouds danced, a very juvenile Amor fluttered around, and a lady (Venere, why does that remind me of 'venereal diseases') danced - looking at the libretto in Italian, I wonder if she was  Amor's mum?  Then the action moved up to the podium where appeared the huge face of an ogre (Plutone) who I suspect was to fall in love with Venere.  Plutone's part really plumbed the depths of the bass voice, and the singer was amazing. Given that the mouth of the Plutone puppet moved alongside the singer's, the audience cracked up. And the audience did not stop cracking up, because then started the ball of the ungrateful; 6 huge heads of very elderly ladies sitting on strong shoulders sitting on the floor (this is really difficult to describe); the hands of the actors moving them, which poked out between neck (what neck??) and shoulders, appeared very tiny indeed. The faces were wonderful!  They danced, skipped ropes (with some difficulties, due to 'age'), had arguments, but then also sang - their mouths moved and the singers sang behind the stage.  It was absolutely brilliant!

At the applause the band came on stage, with their original instruments, including a gamba, a theorbo (I think, had spotted it sticking up at the back of the stage before), and Mindaugas Backus' period cello.

It was really worth going to see this!

Now before my exam I will have a parody mass on Saturday, (14.30, Franciscan church in Traku g), and - maybe, the 15th century German keyboard school on Sunday (19.00, Lutheran Church).  Apart from the first concert by the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra on Saturday night. Roll on, autumn!

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Suffer the little children....

....seems to be a continuing theme in Jessica Duchen's books, of which I have just read the third, 'Hungarian Dances'. In every one of her books children seem to draw very much the short straw, either becoming anorexic, being pushed by ambitious parents, or being 'abandoned' by both parents, for different reasons. I hate that!

Another theme running through her books is music - this one is about a violinist who eventually finds herself, at considerable cost to her family (see above). Every time I see the title I have those Brahms Hungarian dances running through my head.

It's a story that flips backwards and forwards, between the life of her Roma grandmother, the lives of her parents who fled Hungary in 1956, and her own life - all of which contain a certain amount of trauma, particularly at the Hungarian/Roma end (I am not entirely sure why I do not care so much about the Roma part of the book; I also did not care so much for Colum McCann's 'Zoli', reviewed here which covers much the same topic. Is it because it is well-meaning foreigners writing about them? I think I might prefer a book written by a Roma person). In between there is the family who has lived across the road from Karina's (the heroine's) family who lose a daughter in a catastrophic railway accident.

There are some logic gaps - Karina's father appears to speak with a strong Hungarian accent and slightly fractured English - but he spent his first 7 years in New York - should he not have an American accent?  Also the body of her friend, following the train accident and a fire, is identified by a dental filling - but the accident happened in the 21st century - would they not have used DNA analysis to identify it conclusively?

It's a very readable book (lightish) in a sort of middle-class English way with Hungarian ingredients - a bit of an English goulash. Perhaps this adds extra spice (ouch!) to the type of readers who read Joanna Trollope (and no, an Aga is never mentioned). It's fairly unputdownable - I finished it on a long journey to Kazakhstan.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Gershwin on a shoe string

George Gershwin's (maternal?) grandfather, it appears, is from Vilnius, though he left to live in St Petersburg and later then in the US. So it was entirely natural to have a concert of his music as the opening concert of the St Christopher orchestra's opening season, sponsored by the American centre (their cultural institute, though where was their cultural attache?)

But it was a concert on a shoestring budget. I don't like the way the St Christopher concerts are beginning to resemble the concert programmes of the early 19th century, with a bit of piano music, a bit of singing, a bit of chamber music and a bit of orchestral music. If I pay for a concert (and to be fair, I did not, since not having got round to buy a ticket before, I was waiting in a ticket queue and a nice member of the audience suddenly thrust a spare invitation into my hand) I like to have some consistency in the offerings.

But here we were, with Rokas and Sonata Zubovas playing the Rhapsody in Blue on one piano. Clearly the hall does not have space for the orchestra size needed for this event, and the cost might have been astronomical. But I wondered a lot about this arrangement. If two people are sitting side by side at the same piano, it must mean that the piano and orchestra lines are divided up into high and low parts (with two pianos the 'soloist' would have been easier to identify). I am sure, for example, that the piece involves at least one run of the finger from piano bottom note to the top note of the piano - but this could clearly not be done (I may have spotted half this run). So not a pleasing arrangement. They played it well, and seemed to have fun, but it lacked sparkle - it was beautiful in a Lithuanian sort of way but could have had more bite, and greater differences in tone colours.

This was followed by three pupils from the national M K Ciurlionis school, Austeja Juskaityte, Agne Keblyte, and Vilius Daskevicius playing three preludes for violin, harp (was this part really written for harp?) and cello. Juskaityte did well with producing an almost Gershwinian sound on her violin, Keblyte was a rock-solid harpist and Daskevicius also played nicely. But overall the sound was a bit thin, and I wonder how difficult it is for people of an eastern-European music tradition to produce an authentic American sound. Also, do people pay for tickets to hear school children, albeit talented ones, in an evening concert?

The two Zubovas finished off with a piano transcription of the Cuban overture. Again nice, but better in an orchestra, I think. I could imagine some trumpet solos here and there. Did not quite swing.

Would have liked to have told you about the second half of the concert, with the St Christopher orchestra and the two soloists Liora Griodnikaite and Jonas Sakalauskas singing popular Gershwin songs, but my toothache called for urgent action and I left. (Though I feel a bit bad going home for 'just a toothache' when I knew a guy who visited concerts in the terminal stages of cancer). Can't say that having a baby sitting immediately behind me (what were the parents thinking of?) exactly inspired me to stay either. I wish concert organisers were stricter about this.

Nice touch, though - the programme booklet included an announcement of the next concerts. Good marketing!

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Cats and dogs....

These days I've been getting up early in the morning, what with heavy work in Georgia, and exam revision. And I still have my breakfast on the balcony, while everyone is asleep, including the two dogs in the kennel.

This morning spotted a nice tabby strolling through the garden. Dogs kept sleeping. The tabby wandered along to the stairs to my flat. I started talking to him, and he took a seat and listened. Dogs still asleep. Suddenly I was aware of a dog's head pointing in the cat's direction, for quite a while.... 'surely, I must be seeing things, is that a CAT in MY garden?'

It took interminable seconds for the dogs to explode out of their kennels, to which they are chained. The cat strolled off, grinning....

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ramon Vargas in Vilnius

The famous Mexican tenor Ramon Vargas will open this autumn's season in the opera house, singing various arias (2 October).

He will not be on stage alone. The Lithuanian singer Sygute Stonyte will support him.

Is she the best female singer we have in Vilnius? What about Liora Grodnikaite? Though Stonyte once did a sublime ending to an aria in Verdi's requiem.

I wonder what it is like for him touring world opera houses, and being paired with whoever can be wheeled out?

I will stop here....

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Work, work, work

If you think I have a minute to think about writing about music, think again! Geeez, this time I am on a high-level project in Georgia (which seems to be doing quite well in re-building itself, in parts, anyway) and working from morning till night, and then revising for my music exam - I've barely got time to breathe! Haven't worked so hard for a long time! But there are compensations, like in the evenings taking a smoke on the balcony, and in between picking the biggest grapes.....

Can't really say anything about Georgia and how it is doing - it would conflict with my work and that would not really be right. I'm still an old stick-in-the-mud civil servant at heart who does not criticize that organisation who employs him (even if indirectly).

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Matters of Honor (sic)

'Matters of Honor' by Louis Begley is a wonderful book! Is it a 'bildungsroman'? Might be - I'm not that hot on types of novels.

It's about 3 fairly privileged young men who start college together in the 1950s (at Harvard), and follows their lives - throughout their lives. It's told from the viewpoint of Sam, the son of a couple with a drink problem who appear to be the black sheep of a very middle-class New England family. Henry, a Jew, survived the war in hiding in Poland, and Archie is the son of a US military officer and his wife who has grown up in Panama. They are put together in a student flat and from there their friendship begins.

The question occurs, though, who's 'bildung' is being told here? Is it Sam's, or is it Henry's? Archie remains somewhat peripheral, but Sam and Henry remain closely connected throughout their lives. Henry tries hard to throw off the yoke of Judaism - of course, as a young man with a Polish accent he is always asked how he survived the war, which he hates. His mother clings to him, and his parents want him to become a doctor - but he drops that course and studies classics instead., though later he develops into a direction which might have made his parents proud. Sam's life, on the other hand, proceeds fairly calmly, apart from a mishap or two, into the life of a successful writer.

What's so wonderful about this book? It is written so beautifully (probably better in English, I read it in German), and meanders along so calmly, even though some of the events described in the book are quite traumatic. It is interesting how much the men in this book (in which women are very marginal) talk about their feelings and experiences - most of it is about the emotional lives of the characters. And still the book is unputdownable. Very much worth reading.

(And now it looks like I am off to Georgia for an emergency assignment - and I have exams to pass, and and and....)

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Get me out of here!

Last night's concert by the 'New Ideas Chamber Orchestra' (NIKO, in Lithuanian) was something quite different. Starved of music, as I have been, I was interested to see what this new band would produce. Hmmmm. The audience consisted mainly of young people few of whom I knew. Which made me wonder what I had let myself in for! (In Lithuania it's mainly the young who go to avantgarde type concerts).

As the audience was filing in some of the performers appeared in different corners of the hall and started fiddling away. In my corner there was a young woman playing Bach; a bit further away another one was doing something virtuosic - but I could not hear her; there was a violist, and another violinist further away. Hmmm?

A young man and young woman appeared and leaned up against the stage. Turned out, eventually, that he was the conductor/composer(?) and she was the singer. Singer. Yes, well. The musicians sprinkled round the audience eventually disappeared and some reappeared on the stage, which by now featured a string quartet, with a guy playing various gongs at the front, the singer and the conductor/composer(?)/pianist.

The concert was called 'be dvieju bruksniu' ('without two lines/strokes' according to my dictionary). There was no programme. The website says that it was the composer Gediminas Gelgotas' 'musical mystery, a magical evening of musical improvizations', which 'at the same time on the scene shows some 20 young Lithuanian international competition winners as well as NIKO'. Maybe I should have read the blurb more carefully....but there were not 20 people involved, ever.

The first person left during the first piece, where it appeared that the singer was having sex with the microphone, accompanied by the gongs, and possibly the string quartet behind, but we could not hear them over the roar of the gongs. Since I sat in the front row I could neither count how many other people left, nor leave myself - there was a little door near me, but I realised just in time I would still have to cross the auditorium to actually get out. I was trying to think if there was a backdoor, and whether I would be able to climb out over the garden walls at the back of the building.....

Anyway, on it went. Another piece had the same little theme, a few bowed notes and then a 'plink' which was played by the whole string quartet, each member at different times and different pitches - I thought the first violinist did the most masterful 'plink' but the cellist and violist did not pick this up. A further piece had a slightly fugal start; Gelgotas played the piano for a bit, then a song involved the singer in whistling and squeaking - though it's clear that she is also quite capable of singing very high. The music was much the same throughout - I'd have to hear it more often to get the hang of it, but would I really want to?

I have to say that the performers played wonderfully. Particularly the cellist stood out with his warm tone, as did the oboist. It's strange that Gelgotas did not write any whistles or squeaks for any of the other instruments, only the singers - the oboe could have done that quite well, as could the string instruments, all of whom played just very normal bowed string music. But perhaps that would have added a level of complexity beyond his ken.

So it was quite interesting, short (thankfully), but not a great deal of fun.

Roll on Judas Maccabaeus on Sunday!

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Dull and boring - or safe?

As I write, 3sat, the Swiss-Austrian-German channel is broadcasting Mozart's 'Die Entführung aus dem Serail', from the Zürich Opera House, in a production by Jonathan Miller. I was looking forward to a slightly different, funny and interesting production. But in fact it's extremely standard and staid. And not even conducted by Harnoncourt who often conducts there, but by Christoph Kõnig.

The set, a palace garden surrounded by 3 high walls (which might have been the set of his 1980s 'Magic Flute' in Glasgow minus the books), with a palm tree in the middle, does not make sense. Why should a palace entrance, with a rather minor door, be set back between two walls? Or is it the tradesman's entrance? The costumes are pure 18th century - so it's as traditional as you can get. Klaus Maria Brandauer, an actor who plays Bassa Selim, rather shows up the non-native German-speaking singers with his natural speech. He has a rather high voice for 'authority' characters who in Mozart tend to have a low voice (eg Sarastro in the 'Magic Flute', or Don Pedro in 'Don Giovanni'). Alfred Muff as Osmin is rather restrained, and not the rather evil but also partly funny character that I would have expected (another parallel to the 'Magic Flute' 'singspiel' - Monostatos; both are made drunk, the first with alcohol, the second with music; perhaps showing, in a rather racist way, how 'simple [foreign] people can be easily manipulated).

On the other hand, this opera could easily be seen, and treated, as an East-West (euphemism alert!) opera, eg setting it the 21st century, for example in Afghanistan or Iran. That might have been interesting - but would any opera house have touched it, these days? Think only of Osmin's aria (freely translated) '[they will be] beheaded, then hung, then stuck on hot spears etc' (how can someone be beheaded and then hung??). And that might be dangerous, and start up a lot of trouble. Maybe that's what they were trying to achieve in this production - but it's dull! I'm off to bed!

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Summer reading

Have had lots of time to read, in different languages. Including
  • Ismael Beah's 'A long way gone' (in Spanish). A harrowing tale of a child soldier in the wars of Sierra Leone, including moments of almost unbelievable cruelty, escapes, wars catching up on him, an event at the United Nations in New York while he was still a school boy (in the middle of winter when he had never seen snow) and final escape to the next country, Guinea. The book appears to have been discredited a little, but is still a very useful source document for anyone who has to do with the resettlement of traumatised children.
  • Haruki Murakami's 'Kafka on the Shore', his best yet, as far as I am concerned. It's unputdownable! It's about a boy who runs away from school, an old man who was involved in a strange accident at the end of the war and who can talk to cats, the boy's friend who turns out to be a female-to-male transsexual (or perhaps intersexual, in this case), various other people connected in mysterious ways, and some, quite frankly, spooks. There's a murder and some strange tale about disappearing cats, the story travels from Tokyo to some far flung island - and to the end you don't know what has happened or what is going to happen. Brilliant, and a good, long read. I hear Murakami is due to have another book out soon. Can't wait!
  • Donna Leon's 'Death and Judgment' (in Spanish); one of her usual books which I had not read before. Very nice with the descriptions of Venetian footpaths, bridges and so on. To some degree her books are much of a muchness, what with corruption and socially important people always playing a role. But nice to read, especially with her sense of irony.
  • Lilly Brett's 'Too many men', the predecessor of her book 'You gotta have balls'. Story of a neurotic woman and her Auschwitz-surviving father returning to his roots in Poland. It's nice, and interesting, but frankly, I thought that the balls book is better. 'Too many men' is divided up by (imaginary) conversations with Hoess, the head of Auschwitz (probably portrayed in 'Schindler's List'), which, while adding information for those readers who don't know much about it, breaks up the story. After a while one becomes inclined to flick over these conversations. But still quite funny and also a good read.
  • Colum McCann's 'Zoli' has been lying on my desk for some months, waiting for a comment. It's about a Roma woman who in the 1950s, as the then Czechoslovakia becomes communist, gets involved in politics and becomes political flavour of the month, before the regime changes, and she is effectively excommunicated from her community for fraternising with the enemy. So she has to leave the country. It's a bit weird - there's some English guy in it who after a while fades out; the story jumps backwards and forewards and every time it does so it takes some time to sus out where it's at. Not all that riveting.

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A la Piaf

Monday night, a chilly and wet night, with the final concert of the St Christopher Festival programmed for the courtyard of the Teacher's Palace. Having just got back to an empty cupboard from Germany I'd had a cold beetroot soup and a beer outside some cafe and was thoroughly chilled. Rushed home, threw on lots of warmer clothes - and then found the concert was in St Catherine's church. Since it was the closing concert of the festival (of 62 concerts, including an organ, a guitar, a piano and a harp mini-festival!) everyone who was anyone was in the audience.

It was an evening of 13 (13??) Piaf chansons. This is a show that has been running at the National Drama Theatre for a number of years, and this time translated into the church (or the courtyard, as should have been). It was fun - the singer, Evelina Sasenko had a nice voice, the band played well, and the two dancers, Jurgita Liaugaudeite and Deividas Meskauskas, were wonderful.

And yet, and yet. It lacked a certain 'je ne sais quoi'. Je sais très bien que se manquait. It was just a bit stiff - the songs were sung straight down the page, with limited added personality or risk-taking; Sasenko's dancing was also a bit stiff, and her accent could really have done with that very sexy French 'r'. Her rather dishy producer, though, was brilliant, when he sang at the end.

Then again, it was a lovely way to end the concert season. Welldone, St Christopher! One request - next year, could we have a wind festival, too? Brass? We hardly ever hear any here....

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Questions of stability?

Weird audience at last night's concert of Mindaugas Backus (cello), Toni Salar-Verdu (clarinet), and Alexander Pouliaev (piano), who played a programme of late 18th/early 19th century music at St Catherine's church. Apart from being slightly sparse in number (about 75% attendance, as the Spanish papers might say), they applauded almost all the time (and being worn out, not enough at the end - I mean, you just don't let a bunch of performers go after only two bows!), did not stop talking before the second piece, and most extraordinarily of all - one guy wandered onto the stage to look at the Hammerclavier just as the pianist came out to do his stuff. The guy did not stop, and suddenly realised what he had done - meanwhile the audience had not noticed that the performer came on stage, and did not join in my applause (much). But I suppose it was nice that they came to a concert and that they enjoyed it, and maybe they'll be back.

It was probably the first time I had heard a hammerclavier in Vilnius. It looked like a harpsichord (and had no sustaining pedals), but sounded more like a piano - sort of half-way in between the two. The clarinet was an early model with open holes (like a recorder) and only about two bits of the metalwork that modern clarinets are covered in. And the cello, while described as a historic instrument, had no spike (and perhaps gut strings?) - I would have expected a shorter fingerboard; then again, maybe that only applies to the early models of upper strings - the Haydn cello concertos already go up quite high on the instrument. I was contemplating the playing position of a cello held between the knees - suddenly a cello, which might have served as a third leg, what with the spike, is becoming much more part of the player's body, what with the player cradling it between his legs. It must seriously change the stability of the player who no longer can lean on the instrument, where the instrument can slip (though those with a spike do too, from time to time), and where the pressure on the legs must be considerable. Did not some cellist retire hurt because of the damage to his knees from a career of historical instrument cello playing?
(The other question of stability related to the hammerclavier, of which only three of its 5 legs were supported by blocks, with the other two hanging in the air. Seemed to work, though).

The trouble with historical instruments, they say, is their limited dynamic range (apart from the squeaks and whistles you get in early brass instruments). I remembered this during the first piece, a very delightful classical trio by Adalbert Gyrowetz who I had never heard of. At times I found it difficult to hear the cello - even though I was sitting in the second row. The first movement of this piece is rather long, compared to the other movements - but it was very pleasant. Was it the opening of the third movement (three chords) which reminded me of something by Mozart? Gyrowetz was born seven years after Mozart, which explains the very classical style for someone who died 83 years later in 1850. The performance was nice, and well coordinated.

Following this Alexander Puliaev climbed on the stage for Beethoven's 32 variations on an original theme, once the audience had settled down. In my mind I had mixed up the variations pieces of the evening - I was thinking of 7 variations, so assumed the piece would pass in a minute or so. But it did not, and went very well - also showed that the hammerclavier, as opposed to the harpsichord, does have some dynamic potential.

Then there was some misunderstanding. I and some other members of the audience thought that it was the interval, so went out for a smoke. Some others did, too - but on the whole I was surprised at how few people came out. Discovered then Mindaugas Backus and Puliaev in the middle of Beethoven's 7 variations on 'Bei Maennern welche Liebe fuehlen'. And discovered I could hear the cello very well even at the back of the church, with the glass doors in between.

Toni Salar-Verdu and Puliaev's performance of Weber's concert duo for clarinet and piano, op 48 was good - it was clear that his original instrument, too, has a nice dynamic range, and he phrased the piece beautifully. Once a beautiful phrase in the first movement was broken up, but later, when it was repeated, it was played like it should have been played. Loads of engagement and fun.

Finally Beethoven's trio op 11 No 4 (I'm learning here to be more precise in my descriptions of pieces - Budrys, Geniusas and Geringas also played a Beethoven trio last month, but I cannot remember which one - if he wrote more than one for this group of instruments). This was a wonderful performance! Particularly Bachkus, in his opening of the second movement, played sublimely - and Salar-Vardu almost picked this up. I was wondering why Bachkus does not have a more international career.....Here it all came together beautifully! (But the audience, having tired themselves out applauding between movements, lacked the energy to ask for an encore - it would have been really nice to have one).

I was a bit annoyed that the BGG trio performance was attended by everyone who is anyone in the music world (they are such snobs, they just wanted to rub shoulders with Geringas), but this performance on original instruments - a very rare thing in Vilnius - was not.

The other thing that really irritates me with the St Christopher Festival is how hit and miss their concerts are in terms of programming. Tonight's concert is cancelled due to injury (fair enough, not that I would have gone to hear a solo plinky-plonky harp anyway), last night's concert had a programme change (which was right - the concert would have been too long), another concert I went to had a serious programming change, the website does not always give the programmes. That's not nice.

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