Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Nothing to be Modestas about

Tonight young Modestas Pitrenas introduced the adoring Vilnius public to his Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra (KCSO) . I hope next time more people will adore, because by the second half only about 200 people were left in the hall - the people not filling the empty seats don't know what they missed.

The KCSO was founded less than three years ago - now how many countries or cities can say they have founded a new symphony orchestra in the last 10 years? It's something seriously to be proud of! A short while later the delightful Modestas was appointed its chief conductor. A great choice, and I hope they will go far.

The orchestra is evenly balanced men/women, though of the instrumentalists holding a string instrument on their shoulders only one is a man (the leader of the band, and he is a good leader). The leader of the cello section looks quite blase when he plays a solo, but he draws a beautiful tone. At least one of the other orchestras in Vilnius should keep an eye on him. Mostly the players are under 40 and they have an enthusiasm that is not yet totally diminished (though it could even be higher).

The concert started with Arunas Navakas overture to the rock opera 'Peer Gynt' (you think you have heard it all now?). It did not have much rock about it, not having a discernible strong beat, and being a bit impressionistic. Though it had some American film music lines, as well as a chord that was pure Grieg. If I had paid money to go and see a rock opera I might have been asking for my money back at this stage. The orchestra played it nicely, and there were some great cello solos.

The solo-oboist of La Scala, Milan, Francesco di Rosa, then followed it with Strauss' oboe concerto, a nice piece (and following up Modestas' conducting of Salome of the week before). This was safe and sound, but lacked personality and inspiration. I wonder who uninspired whom. There was supposed to have been a viola solo but I missed it (the lead violist was on the wrong side of the conductor for me to see her). Her name as the soloist was announced at the start of the concert - a nice touch.

Finally Beethoven's 7th (which I have played - of the last 3 concerts I went to, I have played 4 pieces, either on vile-din or viola; quite a repertoire, no?). Watched this one from above the conductor, having slipped into the closed balcony when the staff were not looking. This was very interesting - first because having studied Beethoven's 5ths in considerable detail last year, I spotted some aspects that would just have washed over me, and partly because of the interpretation. I could have sworn that Modestas here had got an attack of the HIP approach, being economical on the vibratos, sometimes being able to bring out wonderful contrasts, eg using the strings quite percussively at times followed by an extremely smooth legato, the percussionist using hard sticks.....great stuff. One of the more interesting Beethoven performances I have heard in Lithuania for some time. He could have been even more consistent with this treatment, sometimes it worked stunningly, sometimes it did not, but I am sure he will get there. The winds could have been a little more inspired, perhaps, especially the flutes. Let's not talk about horns in Lithuania - it's time we dug some pits and started colliery bands to get people trained properly.