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...