Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bach with a ferret

I have to admit to not being the greatest lover of the harpsichord and the guitar, neither of which are instruments particularly capable of sustaining a note - so I am not sure about the point of doing a vibrato on a guitar... But what is one to do on a summer's night in Vilnius, when the cinema is cr*p, no-one else is free and one can't sit in the house every evening.

Reinbert Evers, guitar and Gregor Hollmann, harpsichord, looking very fine and Northern German, took over St Catherine's church for a whole evening of Bach. I had heard Reinbert Evers on one or two occasions before and always had a slight feeling of edge-of-the-seat anxiety about getting the notes, but was prepared to give the benefit of the doubt.

The first piece (I did not have a programme, but had asked before what, in general, they were playing) had me nearly leave the place. It was a catastrophe for the guitar, with the soloist seemingly losing a large chunk of the last movement. I don't know what goes through a musician's mind if he starts a concert like this. Also, and this was the case in most of the pieces of the evening, the guitar phrasing was not always clear - things hung in the air, or suddenly appeared, and it was not certain what they belonged to. Evers has an unfortunate way of burying himself studiously in his music - which makes it look as if he sees it for the first time - this does not help getting the message of phrasing across. In addition in many groups of semiquavers notes were lost - I know that the second and fourth notes of these are not so important, but dammit, they are still written! And it was not always those notes that were lost....

The second piece, possibly a lute sonata, he played from memory - and what a difference that made! The polyphonics of some of the movements came out beautifully and everything was calm, but still engaged. He produced a very nice and warm sound with his guitar (and the amplification).

There were another three joint pieces, one organ sonata transcribed for guitar and harpsichord - I tried to imagine the organ line and thought it might have dealt more easily with the semiquavers; and for one of the other sonatas I bizarrely had the fantasy that a trumpet might have played the guitar part.

Gregor Hollmann, the wonderful harpsichordist, who just floated serenely across his music, got a small solo spot with a prelude and fugue. He really is a great harpsichordist - he plays in a cool, dry way, but clearly restraining his emotions, like he is some guy from Hamburg. This performance was wonderful and the applause showed it.

Finally, as an encore, they played the Bach(?)/Boccherini fandango - a well-known piece. It was not exactly full of Spanish passion - you would not get that from Northern Germany - but it was fun nevertheless.

Yes, well.

This evening had only two photographers scurrying around in front of the stage like rats, in the first half. Though it has to be said that they were totally inaudible, but just too damn visible and thus distracting. I was rather startled to spot one of them, in the garden during the interval, with what looked like her pet ferret on a lead - where had she kept it during the concert?


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Spitting blood!

So, after loving Lily Brett's 'You gotta have balls' I bought the other two books by her that amazon.co.uk sell. I had been a bit surprised that 'Uncomfortably close' appeared to have an almost identical cover to the balls book. But I thought that was maybe her house style.

The reason, I now discover, why the cover is virtually the same, is because it's the same frigging book! On the title page, in tiny writing it says 'previously published as 'you gotta have balls'. Why would they do a thing like that? Was the original title to offensive for sensitive American readers?

So now it needs to go back to amazon, at a not inconsiderable cost of postage. Not happy!


Who'd want to live below a flamenco dancer?

What I know about flamenco can be written on the back of the DVD of Carlos Saura's 'Carmen', which I've watched loads of times and which I suspect will shortly slide into my DVD player again. It's brilliant, estupendo! (Would have done the upside down exclamation mark, but have just spent half an hour trying to find one in my Linux environment).

Of course the film has a specific story to tell and there is much purpose to all the dancing. It is probably not fair to compare that dancing to last night's dancing at the concert of Pepe Justicia and his group.

Pepe Justicia is an awesome guitarist! As soon as he picked up his guitar it was clear that this was going to be a more exciting concert than the Fado concert 10 days ago. He's just brilliant - so virtuosic like you wouldn't believe; probably the best guitarist I have ever heard in Vilnius (not that I have heard that many). There are no histrionics, just straight down to business and he's playing.

But he was not alone. After his first solo another guitarist appeared on stage (it would have been nice to have had people's names somewhere), a percussionist playing a wooden box and something that looked like a blonde stool, but was clearly a percussion instrument; two young ladies, Laura and Irena, with flowers in their hair and more or less flamenco dresses, and a young man in a suit. The latter three sat at the side of the band and clapped. Rhythm is very complicated in flamenco - three people often all clap very different rhythms, which makes it lovely and complex (I learnt a bit of that in my salsa course last year - it was very challenging, eg when two parts of a group clapped different rhythms, and you would change places and rhythms with a member of the other group). They were a bit difficult to hear, but a joy to watch.

Laura got up to sing and dance - she has a wonderful voice, and that Spanish supercilious look down her nose (which maybe Spanish women need to have to keep their menfolk under control). Listening to her songs it was noticeable just how great the Arabic influence is in flamenco music. Her dancing was quite good, but her feet rather disappeared under the long dress and her hand movements were not as focused as those in 'Carmen' (which may have been performed by the equivalent of the Royal Ballet....). Also she danced away from the microphone quite a lot, and even in the first row I could only see that she was singing - I could not hear her (the percussionist took over her songs at that moment).

At the end of the first part, the young man without a name got up and strut his stuff! Jeeez, he was good! This was serious flamenco-ing - his foot work was awesome! It was a long performance of several bits, and at the end his shirt had almost melted. His second performance in the second part (with a new shirt) was similar; strong, powerful stuff! It was nice that he was wearing just a suit and no fancy dress (I wondered what he might have looked like in jeans). And yet....his overall performance, awesome though it was, did not seem to hang together. There were tremendously fast, virtuosic bits, joined by moments of strutting about clapping his hands (and no doubt catching his breath), but it did not seem to tell a story or come to a peak.

Irena, who might be Pepe's daughter (he played a piece he had written for her when she was 2), apparently was in her first ever performance, so Pepe/Papa told us. In the first half she clapped, but then in the second half she also got up to a dance, in a skirt that somehow looked a bit cheap and not all that glamorous. She got a huge wave of sympathy from the audience - everyone felt for her! I'm not sure it helps a person if the whole audience knows its her first performance - I thought her first dances were smitten by nerves. Her hands were not that great - but when she started a piece where she produced the only percussive noise, that was really impressive. She needs to cultivate that supercilious, arrogant look, though - she was simply too nice! The applause she got was awesome!

There was only one irritation in the concert - the photographers who kept huddling in front of the stage, and rushing here, there and everywhere, with their huge, long lenses, and, in the case of the girls, their rather fat backs and behinds, complete with a good view of the cleft, as they pointed their long protusions at the band - all evening! Was that really necessary?


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Music Performance Theory

The last few weeks of my music course have covered the history of music performance, first by instrument group, then orchestras, and most recently 20th century recordings. The topics by instrument were fairly basic, especially that on strings, which I know a little bit about - where was the mention of synthetic strings - we don't all use gut strings - which makes me wonder about the other instrument groups.....

But the recordings of the 20th century have been fascinating, especially very early recordings by Joachim (late for him), Kreisler, early quartets and orchestras. The styles of playing have changed a lot during the 20th century, particularly in relation to rubato (which some describe as flexibility of tempo, though usually it refers to slowing down), portamento (audible slides on string instruments), vibrato, and rhythm. On rubato and rhythm in particular people were very flexible in the early parts of the century, to such a degree that they might now be criticised for not playing the piece as it is written. But then again, people from Mozart pere to Joachim suggested that rubato by the soloist is a good and stylish idea, especially when held against an accompaniment or bass line that is strictly on the beat. Mozart senior to Joachim - that covers almost a century-and-a-half! It would certainly make a very exciting performance, but would these days orchestras accompany a soloist using rubato very strictly - or would they not try to follow him? As it happens, I have often commented on concerts where performances were a bit dull, because they just played the pieces note by note - but this idea 'melody vs accompaniment' is very interesting! It would also need much imagination, and nerves of steel by the performer! But much like portamento, it is probably seen as old-fashioned.

Kreisler, Heifetz and others working in the first half of the last century were very liberal in their use of all performance options; while Joachim was still sparing with vibrato, Kreisler and Heifetz did it all over the place. Combine that with the portamento, rhythmic freedom and the rubato and you had personality oozing out of the performances. Which is probably why it might have been easier to identify interpreters by sound than it is nowadays. If a modern player used this approach I fear they might be laughed out of the concert hall - it's old-fashioned.

But then there are the interesting composer-conducted performances by Elgar, Stravinsky and others - where the composers are also quite liberal with their approaches, in the case of Elgar often using hair-raising tempi (in orchestras, not always as skilled as they are today, which must have clung to the edge of their seats); and still using portamento and other styles of that period. Sometimes, in the case of long-lived composers such as Stravinsky, the performance style of the same piece changed where performances where several decades apart. So, which is the 'right' way of performing this music? (Never mind pieces written by earlier composers.....).

Talking of performance, I was annoyed at the relatively low marks I got for an edition of a four-bar section of a Dowland lute song in my last assignment. Every note was in the right place! Some of it I can put down to trouble with words being shown differently, and maybe I have not commented on every single editorial change I made. But my tutor tells me I should have put in performance instructions, eg 'f', 'p' etc, since these are 'required in a modern edition'. I take issue with this. Apart from the thought that how much can you put into four bars, I really think that very modern editions of such old music would not have performance instructions. In fact I stated this, quoting Simon Rowland-Jones' much-praised edition of the Bach cello suites for viola as my support. Not good enough, it seems. The next edition is of a Handel choir from Messiah - rather more than 4 bars - I'll need to think of something for that.


A virgin of classical music

Lovely article here (at the end of the column) by Hardeep Kohli Singh, a Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday columnist on his initiation into classical music at the Royal Albert Hall. It makes you realise how big the gap is between us aficionados and those whose life has not been touched by classical music. Probably one of the reasons why the second group might feel uneasy going to a concert.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Two Girls

Not sure which of my blogs to put this book review into - it's a Turkish book (so Eastern Europe might be relevant), but it's a book, so my arts blog is also relevant - though it is not music....

So here it is, Two Girls by Perihan Magden, the third of the books I picked up at the Dussmann Kulturkaufhaus in Berlin. Reasons for not moving to Berlin - 1) the expensive concert tickets, 2) the proximity of Dussmann and potential for spending all my money on books and CDs (though on the other hand I could at least use public libraries again).

'Two girls' is a scary book! It's about two young women in Istanbul (lovely references, if not descriptions of places in Istanbul I have been to) who bump into each other and fall in love immediately. If this book were written in Western Europe, it might have had lesbian love scenes, but this one was sponsored by the Turkish Culture Ministry, so it does not.

The girls are very different - Behiye is a red-haired, freckled punk who seems to like to wear more male clothes and likes Metallica, Hadan is a very pretty and very feminine girl, big into Kylie Minogue and Britney Spears, whose mother is a high-class tart. After a day Behiye moves into Hadan's and her mother's flat, not without having stolen money from her brother.

But gently the world falls apart - there are differences in musical and intellectual taste, and there's Hadan's continuing interest in boys, particularly rich boys - shades of her mother? Behiye is very jealous. Intermittently, within the story, dead male bodies appear dressed in brand name clothes, and with their throats cut - what is the link to the scalpel Behiye carries in her pocket?

The book is beautifully written - particularly the inner life of the rather tortured Behiye is portrayed incredibly vividly. It keeps hurtling forward - though the end is not quite what one might expect. Another unputdownable book!


The one that got away

Was all organised to go to the Baltic Salsa night - looking forward to a bit of Salsa and a beer - but when I got there I found I had lost my ticket! That's a first, and lessons to be learnt!

So all I could do was to go for a beer....


Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Went to tonight's concert in the St Christopher Festival, looking forward to a Mozart piano concerto and the Schumann piano quintet, played by Vadim Kholodenko and the St Christopher Chamber Orchestra under Donatas Katkus.

In my seat looked at the programme - where was the Mozart? The first half had a Medtner piano sonata , and the Schumann was in the second half. I'd just had a whole evening of solo piano playing and am not that great a fan of a single guy in front of a joanna. Left and found the conductor who told me that when they started rehearsing the Mozart, they found that the orchestra had rehearsed one piano concerto (the wrong one) and the pianist another. Oh dear!

So off I went for a beer while Kholodenko played his sonata. I am told it is a beautiful sonata by yet another Russian composer. The Schumann I have heard three times now this year, reviewed here (one of those reviews calls it a 'quartet' by mistake....).

This was a different performance, not least because the string parts were played by a whole string orchestra, albeit with reduced numbers, and the piano was in front of the strings, which is not the normal arrangement. I was in front of the piano, close enough to mop the pianist's fevered brow.

I thought that here Kholodenko was much happier than two days ago. He really integrated well into the ensemble, with some absolutely sublime playing, and a beautiful lightness of touch. The piece does not call for soloistic piano playing and he did not deliver that, but just blended in really well. Particularly when they played the last movement as an encore, he really seemed to be enjoying himself.

The band played well, too, though the first theme of the first movement, which comes round again and again, could perhaps have benefited with a bit more variety. It was a shame that when the cellos had a theme in the same movement, it was blocked by the piano and did not sound as indulgent as it could have done. Similarly the viola solo in the second movement was probably only audible to me because I was listening out for it. If there's a piano on the stage, it blocks a good half of the orchestra. Not ideal.

But it was a great performance, and nice to see Kholodenko enjoying himself. Young Lukas Geniusas, the page turner, and a pianist himself, deserves a special mention. He is a gorgeous-looking young man with hair to die for, and had arms long enough not to have to get up at every turn. This way we could just enjoy looking at him!


Monday, July 21, 2008

'You gotta have balls'

After spending most of the first half of this year reading psychological, neurological, and musicological textbooks (and any other 'ologies' you may think of), it was a relief sweeping past the tables of paperbacks at Dussmann's in Berlin a couple of weeks ago to just get some reading books. It's a huge shop over 5 floors, styling itself the Kulturkaufhaus (also got my CDs and my Beethoven scores while I was at it), and just as an afterthought I looked at this table laden with books and found three, two of which at least seem to be very good and funny. I can do with funny at the moment!

Lily Brett's 'Chuzpe' (in German) or 'You gotta have balls' is wonderful! It's about a neurotic New York Jewish lady, Ruth, with an eating disorder (only eats green stuff) and her 87-year-old father who is a holocaust survivor. As the author says, if your parents survived the camps, you have no chance to ever complain about suffering yourself. Ruth runs a business writing letters for people. Her father who has lived in Israel for all the post-holocaust period, comes to live in New York and drives her crazy, helping out in her business, full of good ideas (he thinks) and overdoing everything. Then, suddenly, he shows up less at her work, and she starts to worry. Even more so when two ladies, who they met in Poland in a remembrance visit the previous year, show up and move in with the father. When one of these ladies, Zofia (69), tells her about the wonderful sex she has with Ruth's father, the world just about melts down. Then it turns out that the three elderly folk have a business idea.....and all Ruth's friends and relations think that the old folk are just wonderful.

The book is really funny, and unputdownable. Ruth lives from one anxiety to the next and is constantly fretting about her body, her father, her business and about her husband who is far away in Australia. The fretting increases as the business idea develops. It must have been really difficult to translate the book given that the father only speaks fractured English, and considering the New Yorkisms in it. The name of the business 'you gotta have balls' loses something (about 90%) in the German translation 'Klops muss der Mensch haben'.

It's quite similar to Maryna Lewycka's 'A short history of tractors in Ukrainian', what with the daughter of a person from Eastern Europe having to deal with her father's desire to link back to the olden days (even if the olden days, in Poland, were not particularly wonderful). Here, however, the outcome is better - and the book is very New York and very Jewish. Fantastic for a pleasant read!


A surfeit of notes

Last night's concert at St Catherine's church was the first of two concert by the young Ukrainian piano virtuoso Vadim Cholodenko, falsely advertised as a Russian. He studies (studied?) with the mother-in-law of the mini piano festivals' organiser, whose son played in the festival last year. This sort of thing makes my skin creep. Don't they have 'open and fair' recruitment in the music business? Probably less than anywhere else.

The programme included Beethoven's first piano sonata (1795), Balakirev's second (1905) and Liszt's transcendental etudes (1851). Although this looks as if it covers three centuries, the Balakirev sounded as if it could easily have been written at the same time as the Liszt etudes.
This is what I don't like about the Russian school of piano playing (or playing anything) - it always encompasses a narrow range of styles and periods. Yes, in the 19th century a huge amount of piano music was written, and zillions of notes all over the place, but this does not really show off the full range of a 'virtuoso's' talents. Though I expect people can make a living playing nothing but music from 1820 to 1870, and be lauded for it. For me a 'meet the new young pianist' programme would include some Bach, Mozart, something 19th century (Liszt, Chopin, Schubert?) and something that is really 20th century, maybe even Bach/Busoni - in an emergency John Cage's 4'33" could do (though the copyright fees might be high).

Cholodenko shot off into the Beethoven as if a swarm of bees was after him. It seemed as if he could not get it over fast enough, dropping the repeat of the first movement, which is a really structural component. (My piano teacher suggested I work on this over the summer - she's crazy - and while my speed is very slow, I was shocked at the tempo Cholodenko chose). The whole performance sounded very dry, almost like one might have played Bach, but just incredibly fast.

In the Balakirev 2nd sonata Cholodenko got into his own. Balakirev (1836/7 - 1910) is one of 'The Five' who started the revival of Russian national music in the 19th century, the others being Cui (who?), Borodin, Mussorgski (who looks like a total drunk on every painting in every post-soviet music academy) and Rimskij-Korsakov. This sonata was a monumental piece, which reminded a bit of the Chopin etude that Freddy Kempf played in Vilnius as an encore earlier this year. Lots of noodling about with about nine fingers with a single digit melody being in the pinky of the right hand, or so. He brought this out beautifully and clearly.

Finally 8 of Liszt's transcendental etudes. Again it was massive and complex music written clearly before Liszt got religion (when his music became much simpler and clearer). But here, also, Cholodenko produced some sublime moments - he is really good at 'lyrical' and should play some more music like that. It's also nice that he is not a 'piano basher' who thumps his instrument. But I'd like to hear him play an extended range of repertoire. And I will - he'll play a Mozart piano concerto on Tuesday.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mamma Mia!

Everyone who is anyone in Vilnius musical life was in the 'Mamma Mia! - the Movie' last night. Well, at least David Geringas and I (separately...).

I must admit that when the film opened and a perfect set of American teeth came out with an observation that was pure 12-year-old, I seriously considered leaving. But I like Abba songs.

What followed, was pure summer holiday escapism for all the family. A seriously contrived, happy little story set on a beautiful island, interspersed with lots of Abba songs, and then some stuck on at the end which they obviously couldn't fit into the film.

There was some great acting - Julie Walters at her best - singing, dancing, acting, and then, and then? Let's move on to the singing. Here we had actors singing the Abba songs, hardly ever in a group of 4 like the originals. At least they did not mime the original songs, but then again, some people clearly cannot sing - like Colin Firth - it was cringe-making. And the voices did not always fit the songs, and I wonder if some of the words were changed. And the accompaniments, were they original or arranged? They did not seem to quite fit. This could lead to a paper on 'original' performances in music - sadly, of Bach there are no recordings.....

So, it's a happy, good mood, funny little film with nice music, one you could take even the young children to (as long as you can explain the concept of a person having three fathers), but if I wanted to see a film with Abba music, I would always go for 'Muriel's Wedding' which has the original songs, and considerably more bite than 'Mamma Mia!'.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Who are they?

After watching a DVD - Vilnius in summer is terminally boring - found myself flicking onto a recording of a Filharmonija concert, with a chamber orchestra playing what I eventually identified as Copland's Appalachian Spring, played very carefully and with not that much pzazz. Rather slowly, too....

But who's the chamber orchestra? Foreign or local? I thought it might not be a famous foreign orchestra seeing the many empty seats in the auditorium (plus the quality of the playing). Looked a bit more at the players, their hairstyles, the dress (one male cellist wore a black shirt when all others wore white ones) and decided it was a Lithuanian band. But I knew no-one in it, nor the conductor. Most unusual!

Turns out that it is the Klaipeda Chamber Orchestra - with Daniel Gazon, a Belgian conductor. And then we have the Camerata Klaipeda, the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, the Kaunas Chamber Orchestra, the St Christopher Chamber Orchestra and and and? Much music making, no?



Does the Portuguese word 'Fado' have any link to the German word 'fade' meaning 'dull'? I'm just asking because that's what I felt the music to be at last night's concert in the St Christopher Summer Festival concert in the courtyard of the Teacher's House in Vilnius.

The scene was set for a wonderful, relaxing evening - the sun was shining, for once (more than it's doing now), there was a restaurant and bar serving drinks, people were sitting at tables and eating, others sat on chairs, or me on the ground near the stage. The band, consisting of Joana Amendoeira (vocals), her brother Pedro (Portuguese guitar), another Pedro Pinhal (described as 'fado guitar' but effectively playing not much more than chords) and the bassist Paulo Paz were beautifully presented and generally played and sang well; though some of the singing could have been a bit more raucous and sexy, keeping up more of the tension.

First the progamme selection was not that great - do they not do sad songs in Fado? There were one or two more melancholic songs, but even a song about sailors was quite a jaunty affair. As a person from another sea-faring nation, Scotland, where songs about sailors are probably mostly close to dirges, what with the high death rate, this surprised me. But maybe sailing near Portugal is safer? Somehow I doubt it. It would have been nice to have a wider mix.

Then I was surprised how mainstream European the music was, and I wondered if the programme had been put together in anticipation of a northern European audience. But I don't know Fado - maybe I need to get a CD. The rhythms were mostly normal mid-European, with only one piece having a Habanera type rhythm. None of that excitement that you get in Spanish music. One piece had a really bog-standard bass line that you would get in any central European song, another ended with a really corny tierce de Picardie (where a song in a minor key suddenly modulates to a major chord at the end of it - Bach is famous for this). The only different aspect about Fado, compared to Central European music, was that all songs were in minor keys.

The audience quite liked it, though sitting still for almost two hours without a break is quite hard - not as hard as it is for the performers, presumably. I could see the head of a jazz performer hanging more and more as the concert went on. It was ok, but did not set the heather alight.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Buying tickets - the hard way

www.bilietai.lt now sells tickets for many events, at a cost of 2 LT per ticket, even if you buy them at some concert venues such as the St Christopher Festival, the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra and some other events. It's called contracting out, and a guy arrives with a little case containing a laptop and a printer and you get yer fancy tickets.

Of course, you can buy tickets from home, via the internet. For that you need to be signed up to bilietai.lt with name and password. Then it becomes complicated. Either you can reserve tickets and collect them within a certain number of days from one of their offices (which are in many locations), or you can buy them directly.

Here you have the choice at picking them up at the ticket office (not sure about the box office of the concert venue - have not risked that one yet), or getting them sent to your home address, at an additional 5 LT per ticket - provided the address is in Lithuania.

So this morning it only took me two hours to buy tickets for four events. To say that it is an annoying website is putting it mildly. For each event you have to pay separately. This means starting with going through one of those screwed up numbers that you then have to type in, to prove that you are a real person, and then you put in your credit card details - all of them, and for each event.

So I put them in four times? No, more like 20 times - with some tickets I kept getting error messages. You'd have to be really committed not to give up. The good news is that although the system tells you such reservations are only held for 15 minutes, in fact it held them until I got the money through two hours later.

And what you do then is write down very carefully the 18-digit code number for each ticket, with which you run round to the ticket office to pick up your ticket. With my 4, the page in my notebook now looks like 007 stuff. Customer-friendly it is not!


Deus ex machina?

My first concert in the St Christopher Festival in Vilnius last night involved the trio of Petras Geniusas (piano), Algirdas Budrys (clarinet) and David Geringas (cello). (Since when do the Lithuanian announcers pronounce Geringas' first name as 'Deivid'?).

The programming was fairly conventional, with trios by Beethoven, Senderovas and Brahms. The programme listed them upside down.....not helpful.

For the first half I sat in the back row of St Catherine's Church, in the second half I was in the second row. The St Christopher Festival still seems to give out invitations to all sorts of people who don't actually appear, so just as the concert started I saw a lot of standing customers flooding into seats at the front.....worth learning from this what with the higher ticket prices...

All the same, I was glad I tried out the last row. A church does not lend itself to chamber music, especially music needing as much precision as Beethoven. By the time it got to me, what started up as meat and two veg had become a pureed mush of notes. It's a beautiful piece, and I realised that I knew it. I thought Geringas never-varying vibrato was a bit much for Beethoven, and occasionally I could not hear the clarinet.

This was followed by Senderovas' Trio No 2. Senderovas is well-known for writing Jewish music and music that is very accessible. Written in 1984, also with a violin-cello-piano version, this piece seems to be from a slightly avantgarde phase. Though not excessively avantgarde - the pianist stood up only once and stuck his hands into the bowels of the piano. It was interesting, but perhaps not typical Senderovas as one has come to expect. Here the cello vibrato was much more varied, probably precisely specified by the composer - don't remember much about the clarinet....Halfway through the piece there was a loud, musical hammering-on-the-door noise. Now, Senderovas is a composer who loves percussion music. Was this an addition to the score? The noise moved round from church door to church door, and eventually stopped. Turns out that it was not planned, but that it was the composer, who had come straight from the airport and asked to be let in. Bit outrageous, though, making such a scene!

The Brahms trio I realised was the one I had been confused about in Dussmann in Berlin last week. I had found a note in my notebook about a Brahms clarinet trio with Thomas Riebl playing the clarinet part on the viola but thought - surely I made a mistake writing it down, has Brahms written such trios? In fact he has and I am listening to it now, though I see that the CD also contains the two clarinet/viola sonatas of which I have I don't know how many recordings. Here I listened to the performance from the second row, and what a difference that made! This is a beautiful piece, with a rather delightful Austrian country dance in the third movement. Here occasionally the performance did not hang together - eg in the first movement when the cello and the clarinet had a lovely little conversation of little runs, but they played it as if they were not looking at each other while talking, each following his own train of thought. The clarinet had a few unexpected notes here and there, but generally it went well. I notice that the recording I am listening to has more dramatic dynamic contrasts than last night's performance...but the quiet bits in the performance had a habit of sounding a bit pointless.

It was interesting watching the players - whenever the clarinet had a bubbly run just using fingers, repeated by the cello, it looked like the cello was making heavy weather of them - but in fact it's the only way to get the sound out of the cello, by moving the bow backwards and forwards across the string. Incidentally, was Mr Geringas using a different cello than usual? It looked darker than I remembered, but very nicely polished (note to children - don't try to polish your cello, it's one for the experts!).

You may wonder why I have not mentioned the pianist? Actually, I could not see him regardless of where I sat - he was well hidden behind the bulk of Mr Budrys. Not only that, but he played like an accompanist, not like an equal partner in a trio as he should have been. It was hardly noticeable when he got 'bits of tune'. The lid of the piano was half-way down which may have been down to the church acoustics - in the Filharmonija the lid was always fully open in such scenarios. So, yes, I wish I could tell you more about Mr Geniusas, other than that his fan club was also in the audience, but I can't.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Martha Graham

Went to see Martha Graham's Dance Company in Berlin last week. Her ballets and company have an enormous reputation, and I thought it was necessary to see a performance.

It was interesting. But now that I have seen it I know I don't necessarily need to go and see it again. I realised how much modern ballet also has its own steps, much like classical ballet - but of these little was seen at the performance; clearly she has her own style. Interestingly also, the performance was not sold out and I could have saved a lot of money had I bought the left-over tickets on the day. But there we are.

The first ballet, 'Embattled Gardens', was a 1958 story about Adam and Eve, the snake and the snake's girlfriend (who, according to some interpretations of the bible story, was the first Mrs Adam). The set was like something of a 60s kindergarten, all primary colours, with a climbing frame (the tree) and a platform reminding of a trampoline or a sand pit. Perhaps this represented the innocence of Adam and Eve. However, the innocence did not last long, with both the guys going for both the girls. The snake did much 'snaking' to remind us who he was.

This was followed by scenes from 'Chronicle', an all female anti-war ballet of 1936, the year of the Berlin Olympic Games, starting with a solo dance, and later two group dances. This was good, particularly the group scenes which were quite stunning. Though nowadays all-female is a bit old hat.

Finally 'Night Journey' (1947) was the story of Jocasta, the mum of Oedipus, looking back at her life, we were told. Those of us with some experience of psychoanalysis could probably do without Oedipus.....It was confusing. I think a number of us thought that the guy in the Tarzan pants was the father of Oedipus (Laius), but in fact he was Oedipus himself. The blind seer hobbled along the stage a lot, with dramatic bangs of his stick (we thought he was Oedipus, what with being blind) and there was a nice group of women being very dramatic, but generally it was a very shorthand version of the story.

The music was fairly conventional; normally orchestral (on tape) with no experimental bits and sounds - nothing outstanding there. I wondered how the dancers felt doing these Martha Graham museum pieces (though thousands of other dancers do the Petipa museum pieces), and whether the company as such also uses other choreographers or whether they are stuck in a time warp. So it was an interesting evening, one for the record books, but it did not really set the heather alight.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

July 'Strad'

A whirlwind tour of the July 'Strad' magazine:
  • I notice that in its list of future competition it has not mentioned the 3rd International Jascha Heifetz Violin Competition due to take place in January next year, for which I sent it the details. Shame!
  • Huge coverage of Pinchas Zukerman, who's 60 around about now. I remember a young violist (country of origin not mentioned, but it's small, though not Lithuania) who got a full scholarship to study with him in New York. He abandoned the course a) because he was asked to play in the orchestra and not with the orchestra, and b) there was some girlfriend in his home country. I suppose in 2000 skype did not exist.
  • Ruggiero Ricci is 90. When my friends and I saw him in Glasgow City Hall, less than 20 years ago, already he looked not as strong as he could be. But he still played all Paganini's 24 Caprices. He says for a while he played all of them every morning....
  • Young Charlie Siem's recording of Elgar and Grieg violin sonatas is part of the Strad 'Selection'. I could have sworn I reviewed his concert in Vilnius within the last year or two, but can I find it?
  • A DVD of the Kremerata Baltica seems to consist of Mozart-related pieces (Sinfonia Concertante, 'Eine Kleine bright Moonlicht Nicht Musi, Moz-art a la Haydn) which they have already brought out on CD, quite some time ago. Recyling, I suppose. Players include Marija Nemanyte, now playing in a fine orchestra in Valencia, Spain, Ula Ulijona (who's now playing in a string quartet in Germany) and Danielis (is??) Rubinas - of the Lithuanian component. Ulijona's contribution to the sinfonia concertante is described as 'impassive studiousness [which] brings the work its lovely mellow character. 'Impassive studiousness' - is that praise? Rubinas is described as a 'creative double bass player'.
  • The final page, which is always about two people in some sort of relationship (not necessarily romantic, though Julian Rachlin and that Dutch violinist Janine Jansen were, spoke eloquently about each other, but are no longer), this time is about two double bassists, Garry Karr (who has 10 double basses in his home) and Gavin Bryars. Garry Karr seems to have an unorthodox performance style, what with his dogs wandering around the stage during the final applause....


Saturday, July 05, 2008

35 Litai?

Tendering a 20 Lt note for tonight's concert at the Paveiksliu Galerija, I was stunned to find that it cost 35 Lt, plus 2 Lt for bilietai.lt for the privilege of buying it. And then the lad had no change, so I nearly wasn't the 19th person in the audience. Yes, audience:performers = 4:1. And if you consider that each performer might have had two hangers-on....

But I mean, it was the Paveiksliu Galerija, a museum with a small room for concerts, and the group performing were not an established group (a quartet without a name) - 20 Lt would have been a slightly higher than adequate price. Then again, with 19 audience members, one needs to make the money one can, maybe. At least the applause sounded like more people....

The names meant nothing to me, but I recognised all the men (A Verbauskas, 2nd violin, D Misiunas, cello, and A Ziura, clarinet) as members of the National Symphony Orchestra - the ladies I had not spotted before (G Ziliukaite, 1st violin and D Valentaite, viola). I assume they are all part of the same band.

The programming, 'Musical Miniatures', was kind of odd. Not having a programme I got the impression that there were bits of everything. It was fairly easy and popular listening, lots of Mozart, Haydn, Dvorak (?) and Weber (?). I don't think any whole piece with all movements was played. There was the first movement of the Kleine Nachtmusik, three parts of a Mozart clarinet quintet, an extremely cheesy bit of Haydn (I think, I may have played it), a bit of a Dvorak quartet I decided (after contemplating Bloch - not exactly the same....), and finally a couple of movements of a romantic quintet which can only have been Weber, all bubbly clarinetty (wonder if I heard it in Tbilisi recently). Also I felt that at least two of the pieces were solo spots for the first violin; the viola had about 3 bars of interesting stuff or solo spots in the whole concert (two in Dvorak, one in Weber - unless that was repeated and there might have been another one).

Interestingly, I found the first violin the weakest element. Yes, she did shine out - which does not always happen. Particularly the first couple of pieces were smitted by nerves, I thought, with iffy intonation here and there and some glitches. As is quite common in this part of Europe, she used far too long bows for the Mozarts - at the one point where she used short bows appropriately, she went at her fiddle rather like a wood chopper. She settled down after a while, but always was a bit all over the place. In the Dvorak, though, it was interesting that her violin sounded almost like a viola (that's praise!), with a very rich, dark sound.

Verbauskas, the second violinist, must have had 'second violin' written on his head as a baby. I have never seen him play anything but second fiddle (though has he, on occasion helped out in the first fiddles in the Filharmonija?). He lead the second violin section in the St Christopher Orchestra and knows what needs to be done. He's an extremely experienced ensemble player and, and today's showing, an excellent team member - he came completely into his own in this concert. The violist, D Valentaite, was hiding behind her music stand, and did thousands of quavers and semiquavers, all very reliably. And Misiunas laid a very solid foundation for the whole programme, thoroughly supporting the band.

The soloist, A Ziura, who I had only seen play the bass clarinet in a concert broadcast in the afternoon (and who exactly was that person hanging over the balcony rail in the audience - could it have been me?) did very well. I thought that in one of his pieces (was it the Weber?) his phrasing could have been a bit more elastic, to add a little suspense and surprise here and there. The Mozart quintet sounded much more together all round, as if it had been rehearsed quite a lot. But generally the ensemble playing was excellent. It's great to see the string players come out of the safety of their groups!


La Boheme

No, 'tis not the opera, it's the new restaurant in Sv Ignoto street in Vilnius. It's taken over the space of the Stikliu Bociu folkloric type restaurant which was empty for years.

Last night it certainly was not empty - maybe it has only very recently opened. Part of the building has been divided off for some other business, maybe a club? La Boheme now has 3 rooms, all different in character, with one as a normal restaurant space full of young people, another as a more classy restaurant room (where I believe the posh people go - I gather the not so young Mr American Chamber of Commerce was spotted there, maybe post the July 4th event at the embassy) and finally a light semi-lounge type room, with an arrangement of sofas and low tables in the centre, and some bistro-type higher tables in front of a bench running round the sides. The bench is so high that people's feet do not reach the floor - what do they expect customers to do - have a Roman feast? The centre tables were taken up by a large musical group - saw bits of 'Jauna Muzika' there and others, some dressed as if they might be post-concert - but it was only about 8 pm.

The waitress was lovely, though she seemed to speak not that much English - not that that should matter in a restaurant in Vilnius, though most waitresses do. But when we asked for butter for our bread (getting margarine, presented in a way which suggested our request was unusual) we nearly got water first.

I had to spend some time translating the Lithuanian menu for my friends, which would have been easier had I thought of bringing reading glasses....Usually menus have fairly large type.

The food, frankly, was disappointing - and while the prices were sort of middling, for the quality of the food they were a rip-off. The bread was the soggy supermarket variety - we can do better than that, surely. My friends had the mushroom soup which they found lacking in mushroom essence. I had French onion soup which could have done with the onions being properly caramelised (ie flavour!) and a shot of white wine would not have been a catastrophe. More to the point, where were the cheese and the bread? Very thinning!

Followed by seafood risotto for one of my friends, a breaded bit of chicken stuffed with spinach for the other one, and prawns for me. The seafood risotto looked like all risottos, like someone had eaten it before - and it had obviously been thrown at the plate! Something green for decoration might have improved the appearance. My other friend's chicken looked like something taken out of the freezer - it almost bounced. The chips looked nice, though. My prawns ....I would not call 8 prawns round a small heap of salad an evening meal. Yes, it was from the menu's first courses, in the Italian style, but so was the risotto which would have been a lot more filling. The prawns were nicely presented and had a very nice sauce - but it was not a meal, and vastly overpriced at 19 LT.

It's ok for a beer hall and having a few snacks, but I wouldn't go there for a good meal!