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!


Anonymous said...

would it be different if they were students?

violainvilnius said...

well, yes, I have a problem with my own comment on school children.... I mean young Menuhin and so on, who performed in big halls when they were of an age at which they should have been at school. But while these youngsters were good for their age, they were not of the same level as a young Menuhin.....