Sunday, May 04, 2008

Music Participation

Yesterday was Street Music Day in Vilnius, and 23 other Lithuanian cities. The joint was jumping! Vilnius city can be quite dead on weekends, even more so, if it is a warm May weekend lasting 5 days. Yesterday, every time I went through town, it was bursting with young people. Here a music, there a music, everywhere a music! People were playing jazz in front of the National Museum, behind the King Mindaugas statue a crowd of elderly gents played folk music and young people danced to it, everywhere else were young people with guitars, or amplified sessions.....ok, so the quality ranged from the truly catastrophic to quite good, and I did not hear any classical music - but I was busy and did not investigate. The shops and outdoor cafes were busy, people were enjoying themselves - and this proves exactly that culture (whichever culture) also makes an economic contribution.

Meanwhile in the Filharmonija it was difficult to tell whether there were more performers or more audience members listening to Mahler's second symphony, conducted by Justus Frantz, as the opening event of the German Culture Spring. Particularly if you deduct the number of diplomats who will have received invitations. It did not look quite so bad because just before Mr Frantz came on stage, the audience members at the back moved forward and spread themselves tastefully around the concert hall. Guess the absent ones are the class of people who have dachas and go away for a break.

I was sitting above Mr Frantz and the band, and could watch everyone. It's awesome seeing 10 French Horns in full flight. I now realise that three Lithuanian horn players look very similar (it had been a regular point of confusion) - maybe they are brothers. Of the 10 trumpets two looked as if they had put on their long trousers for the first time. They must have really had to scour the Lithuanian brass world for this one. In the percussion group a woman played for the first time - one of the most reliable percussionists in Vilnius recently had a bad accident to his hand.

I was not sure if the first movement was not a bit too slow. At times it lacked tension (particularly when the first fiddles played pianissimo - they seemed to lose confidence with volume), and the connectedness was not always there. Though the cellos made a beautiful, rough and crunchy start.

The second movement - it's probably not fair to compare the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra with the Vienna Philharmonic who I heard this play under Simon Rattle in Edinburgh one year (and which has this music in its blood).....Much of the movement is a light dance, a 'Laendler'. Here it felt as if it was danced in clogs. It just lacked lightness.

The third movement, which I had not realised how Jewish it was, had some beautifully played clarinet solos. That clarinettist really is worth his weight in gold! I had also not realised that this one was the basis of Berio's 'Sinfonia'. In the fourth movement Laima Jonutyte sang the Wunderhorn solo with a beautiful velvety chocolate voice - not sure that she had to sing quite so much at the delightful Mr Frantz, but anyway. And finally, in the fifth movement, the Kaunas State Choir launched into its contribution. I have to say that I sat practically in the middle of the mens' voices (the little Filharmonija is too small for Mahler), and so I heard the first iffy entry and 'Auferstststststehen' rather more clearly than I might have done had I sat in the bulk of the audience. They did sing very beautifully, smoothly and movingly - I had been prepared to be critical when recently some people in Vienna commented on the excellence of this choir, and I thought 'really?' - but here they were, without a doubt.

In the last couple of movements the piece wound itself up to fever pitch - all on-stage and off-stage work coordinated very well, and everything finally came together well. I wonder how many musicians' ears were ringing at the end of this?


Cath said...

Just found your site...as a classical pianist who'd love to perform in Vilnius someday, I enjoy reading your posts. Coincidentally I posted a bit about Street Music Day on my blog last night over at http://www.allchic.com - writing about it from a fashion viewpoint rather than musical...

violainvilnius said...

interesting blog you have! Loved the laimikis blog, too. I assume you know about operachic (operachic.typepad.com)?