Sunday, November 30, 2008

The beat of the feet

Here the Guardian reports that movements by people, including their heartbeats, can create power. (In the case of the heartbeat this could be used to power pacemakers, removing the need for regular battery-replacement operations - hmm - but the pacemaker is there to stimulate/manage the heartbeats?).

Makes me wonder about creating powercells to harvest the power created in concert halls. Presumably acoustic vibrations could also be converted into power? You could then link it to the hall's lighting system and the light might go up in the Symphonie Fantastique and shrink in Bach's solo cello suites (no-one performs those from sheet music anyway).

Then in the Vilnius Filharmonia you could place power harvesting cells under the seats - people are noisily shuffling their feet all the time. In the place where people meander during the interval, under the entrance doors and the doors into the toilets (as they already do in old people's homes where sensors check if they are moving about (and thus alive)). Never mind the conductor's rostrum, into the timps (so they could tastefully light up from the inside....). You could place tiny cells into the right-arm sleeves of string players, windblown generators into brass instruments....

People using keyboards (roughly the whole world, counting computer keyboards) could use gloves with sensors....


Sunday, November 23, 2008

If only I could have heard her!

Diana Galvydyte, tonight's soloist of the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra's concert at the Filharmonija, conducted by the venerable Juozas Domarkas.

The Lithuanian Ms Galvydyte is quite young, and rushed off to the Menuhin School in 2000; though now she's a student at the Royal Academy in London. Nearly four years ago she won third prize at the Heifetz competition which took place in Vilnius, playing the Prokofiev concerto. She's good at contemporary music, if you can call Prokofiev that.

Tonight's programme was more conventional; Chausson's Poème, a popular and very languid piece, and Wieniawski's 'Fantaisie brilliante' on themes from Gounod's 'Faust', a bit of auditory cheesecake, usual vehicle for violinists to show off their skills, including the compulsory fireworks using harmonics and so on. When Ms Galvydyte played solo, she produced a beautiful sound, warm, though with rather non-varying vibrato (maybe it was the period of music that she chose, but at that period vibrato was still more used as an ornament than continuously - listen to Joseph Joachim's recordings). Intonation was perfect, everything was beautiful, almost too beautiful - at the opening of the Wieniawski there was a place on the G-string which she could have played roughly, like 'dirty'.  It needed a bit more personality, and more dynamic contrast. Unfortunately, when the orchestra joined her, we could only see her play, not hear her. Whether it was the 'fault' of a rather limited projection or of the conductor not keeping the band under control, I could not say.

This was followed by Durufle's requiem, written in 1947.  I may have to revise my theory that only composers in countries that have no wars write peaceful music; could not really say that about France (the peace stuff, I mean). Then again, I wonder if it had something to do with it being written just after the war, trying to get some peace into the place.  It is a highly conventional piece, almost romantic (50 years after its time?), though it has interesting moments, including something like Gregorian chant in places, and including a harp (played by the very young Agne Keblyte), an organ and a celesta. There were as many, if not more, wind players on the stage than string players, whose sections were very slimmed down. Some of the sounds just drowned - I heard the celesta once, the organ now and again, and occasionally the harp. It's something about French 20th century music, of this style, that you just get a carpet of sound, rather than themes going round the orchestra. Sometimes it sounded like a guddle, though.  The piece was supposed to contain a baritone soloist, who I never saw, not even when at the final bows - the mezzo, Jovita Vaskeviciute, sang very nicely - she has an amazingly dark voice; is she really a mezzo?  I don't really know the piece, so don't know if the band played well, or the interpretation was right, or not - the violas again had a nice solo, and the solo cellist (the chap who plays in Musica Humana) did a wonderful obbligato accompanying the soloist in her one aria.

Lots of French music over the last week or two; does not do me any harm.  Now I am off to Tbilisi - I see the opera house is planning some charity events for children displaced by the conflict (you know which one I mean). One day someone will think of doing charity events for the old people displaced by the conflict, or those who have picked up a psychiatric illness as the result of the conflict. Would they get as much money for these groups?


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

No Muti for Mutti

Apparently Riccardo Muti and the Philharmonia Orchestra (London) were supposed to play at Prince Charles' 60th birthday bash this Thursday. 

Alas, himself and Themselves (Mum and son) could not agree on the music - it was 'too long, complicated and inappropriate'. Yes, well, what would you expect. Rocks and hard places?

Recently, at Vienna airport, I was closer to Mr Muti than I would ever be in a concert hall. He was on one side of the glass wall (for the Zurich flight), I was on the other (Astana flight). He is very good-looking, and quite wee - would have fitted in well with the Royal Family.


Monday, November 17, 2008

A weekend of Indian music

will take place in the Mokytoju Namai (Teacher's House) in Vilnius from 20 - 22 November, starting at 18.30 each day. I know, I know - I should go, having studied some of the music in my course this year. Then again....maybe I will go to one....

I see that most of the musicians on the first evening are Lithuanians, or at least non-Indians. This guy Anatolijus Lonomosovas (not quite a Lithuanian name) is very involved in Indian music (and in all three concerts); I wonder if it is his effort that started this.   For a country that is so 'differentphobic' it's amazing how much interest there is in this music - whenever there is such a concert, it's packed out. The length of some of these pieces, and relative lack of musical interest and structure, unless you know what you look for, is quite challenging to the average person who might be more used to pop music. (There is a structure in Indian music but you probably need to know about it).


Silk isn't as smooth as this!

Håkan Rosengren's clarinet sound, that is. It's just, wow! A totally seamless transition from nothing to pianiss-issimo to louder - the clarinet was just breathing! No strident notes here.

On Saturday night he was playing two (too short) pieces in the Filharmonija with the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra in a programme of French and Swedish music, conducted by the talented Robertas Servenikas.

Started with a very nice Rhapsody by Debussy (you know me, I was not much of a Debussy fan) which gave the impression of 'a month in the country'. Beautiful, melodic, not just shimmering stuff like you would normally expect from Debussy. This site suggests that by the time Debussy wrote it, he had 'outgrown his youthful rebelliousness' - I'd say. A very pleasant piece, sounding quite romantic, and very beautifully played indeed.

Ernest Chausson's, no, not the Poème for once, symphony in B-major followed, starting with what sounded like a church hymn; heavy brass, large orchestra sound, as the French liked it during that period (think Berlioz).  It was its first performance in Lithuania; the violas had some lovely moments, as they had done last week - they really are lucky in getting music like this. So did the cellos, but they did not produce the viola group's lushness. (I noticed a new cellist in the group - Ruta from the St Christopher Orchestra - is she subbing or did she need a change?).

Rosengren joined the reduced orchestra again for Martin Willert's piece 'Hallucination', written in 2003 - and the Swedish composer was in the audience. It seemed tailor-made for Rosengren's soft, gentle sound, making huge demands on his technical skills - how does he do that, playing two notes at once (one a kind of harmonic, presumably)? Overall, it was a very slow piece and the 3 movements played as one kind of blended into each other, so it was finished kind of before it had begun (probably lasted 10 - 15 minutes).

Finally Hugo Alfvén's Swedish Rhapsody No 3. He lived from 1872 to 1960; this piece was written in 1931, but clearly Schoenberg had passed him by; it is thoroughly romantic in style.  I sometimes wonder if countries that do not have wars or internal conflict produce more peaceful music. Adorno might agree with me, I think. This piece was a bit like  Grieg's Holberg suite with lots of folk melodies, but played in one movement; with some  'grotesk' moments, it says in the programme notes. I did notice something like a donkey braying - midsummer night's dream memory? Also that a sopranino saxophone plays a solo at the beginning and end. Did not notice that one, but did notice how beautifully and lightly the violins played - they got it just right.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Glorious Papa Haydn!

On a slightly life-changing journey the other day, involving 8 hours on a bus there and back, my Ipod suddenly decided to stick to my complete set of Haydn symphonies, recorded by Adam Fischer and the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra. Sounds like a life-time project, no?

Haydn is amazing! One tends to think of him as a lesser Mozart (some of his early string quartets are a bit dull for the viola), but the amount of imagination, surprises, developments, and new ideas that have gone into his symphonies (when you listen to 8 hours of them, one after the other), really is amazing. Considering he wrote at a time when music was only getting inventive, in terms of surprises and contrasts (baroque music tended to have one 'affekt', ie mood, per movement); though on the other hand Haydn did live a loooong time, during which music changed greatly. 

If you ever plan to get stuck somewhere for a long time, get these CDs.  The band plays with amazing enthusiasm, refinement and delicacy - imagine making this recording, of 104 symphonies!

My only problem is, I don't know how my Ipod got stuck on this - I would like to repeat this with other composers. Usually it stops at the end of a CD, or it shuffles around, but some mysterious click happened as I put it in my pocket, and I've enjoyed non-stop Haydn ever since.... 


Bags of enthusiasm!

One can never accuse Algirdas Vizgirdas, the director of Musica Humana, of lack of enthusiasm - he bounds onto the stage like the cat that got the double cream, produces encores at the drop of a hat and generally wheedles his crew into playing more, and more, and yet more.

Tonight was the second concert in a series of celebrations of Vivaldi's 330th birthday.  Surprisingly, it was in the Filharmonija at 7, rather than, as usual, in the Lutheran church at 6 - where I might have rushed to, had I not looked at the website at the last moment.  The Filharmoija's stalls had the audience tastefully sprinkled throughout it.

It was all Vivaldi, then, 8 pieces, plus 3 encores - one before the interval! I made a point of standing up and leaving after the second encore in the second half, and the band, who had been playing standing up, were also much in the mood to go.

It was a nice mixture of pieces, though; a few I did not know, which helps. Seems some Vivaldi is played all the time, and some not at all. There were three 'symphonies', 3 movement pieces (and you thought Haydn was the Papa of symphonies, no? - but he wrote 4-movement symphonies!).  They were nicely played, though some of the contrasts could have been greater. Also there was some breakneck speed - edge of seat stuff. 

Ieva Prudnikovaite sang Psalm 126 (in 8 movements); for a prayer I thought some of the introductions were a bit brisk (Vivaldi's fault, not the orchestra's).  She has a very dark and rich voice, and I wondered how it might have sounded sung by a boy.  She followed it by an aria from the 'Gloria' where I wish I could have understood the words better - I am quite good at liturgical Latin, but the 'qui sedes at dexteram Patris' always ended up a bit of a mumble.  Got the 'miserere nobis' though.

Then there were three concertos; the first was for violin 'and its echo' (RV 552). Here the group went a bit over the top, with planting the echo just outside the stage entrance (with the stage manager wandering about behind it). This did not do much for the sound quality - though again, which echo has a perfect sound quality. I thought the player on the stage was a bit uncertain rhythmically and in intonation, just slightly.  And in the slow movement the 'echo' could have ornamented her version of the same line; I know it's not exactly the function of an echo, but it would have made the movement more interesting. Overall, this is rather a dull piece, with a very pedestrian first movement.

Very young Simona Vaitkeviciute then solo'ed in the concerto for piccolo and orchestra - we all know it well. I've heard it live twice before; once with Evelyn Glennie and the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra in a vibraphone (or marimba) version, the last concert ever under Saulius Sondeckis, and another time with Michala Petri on recorder and the St Christopher Orchestra quite a few years ago.  I would have expected Ms Vaitkeviciute to play it from memory; I mean, how many piccolo concertos are there in the whole repertoire?  But I think she might have been nervous, seeing as at the end she shot off the stage without thanking the conductor or first violinist. She played totally securely and nicely, though. Maybe there could have been a bit give and take in terms of tempi, particularly in the slow movement, but generally it was fine.

Finally Robertas Beinaris, without whose solo no Musica Humana concert happens, played the oboe concerto RV457 (in F major).  A concerto which I had never heard before, and which sounded a bit odd - but with amazing virtuosity. Beinaris held a long, very high note in the second movement - it was to die for. 

And then all those encores.  

I was a bit surprised to see a bassoon in the band, playing along in everything, including symphonies and concertos requiring string orchestras plus harpsichord only (poor harpsichord, it was audible once). The bassoon stuck to the bass line, I think, which is a justified use, though not, I would have thought, in a string orchestra. All seemed a bit pointless. Did he just want to have a go?


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Grim, grey, depressing

....that's what the UK was between 1945 and 1951, according to David Kynaston's wonderful tour de force 'Austerity Britain' which had been lying around half-read for about a couple of years. One of the benefits of smoking are the frequent breaks from other things, and for reading....

It's an amazing book, all 632 pages of text. The amount of research that has gone into it is amazing - I was extremely impressed at how he had got hold of all those personal diaries, until I discovered that people used to send their diaries to the Mass Observation.  It's an amazing resource of bits and pieces of insights into people's lives. And lives is mostly what this book is about; the impact of rationing, housing shortages, lack of everything including heating after the war, but also some politics and economics. It's so interesting reading about some young up-and-coming politicians, eg Arthur Scargill (no politician, no?), Jim Callaghan, the young Harold Wilson whom someone promised not a very great future.  There are the battles over the establishment of the welfare state, the nationalisation of industry, the building of houses (flats) and demolition of old slum-type housing (read that and you understand slum clearance), the experience of the first post-war blacks in England (all 1500 of the new arrivals by the time the book finishes, and the fear of being over-run).

And you thought that sociology only came into being into the 1960s? Wrong - apart from Mass Observation, there was a chap called Ferdynand Zweig who seems to have talked to every worker under the sun during the period, and lots of others.  Many of the fears of the late 1940s still exist, like of the young ones, of crime and disorder - 'with this deterrent [capital punishment] gone, no woman will feel safe in London after dark'....following nationalisation, there were 'too many men walking about in hats' (ie management) - what would those people say now, when they see the health service... 

The funniest thing is the language - jeez, how English has changed over the last 60 years - you mark my words!


Saturday, November 08, 2008

The pianist and the pineapple

The Filharmonija was only half-full tonight. Shame - they missed a great performance! Even worse - the concert was broadcast throughout Europe, but thankfully only on radio.

The Lithuanian National Symphony orchestra, under the delightful Modestas Pitrenas, started with Barkauskas' Konzertstück No 2. A fantastic piece in three parts, which opened with a blast of an ascending motif by the trumpets which was then passed around the very large orchestra, including two ...xylophones (metallophones? could not see). This was followed by a more lyrical middle section; the end had a different ascending melody, more of a scale, but which still resembled the first motif. A great piece for opening a concert!

Edvinas Minkstimas then joined the orchestra for Bartok's third piano concerto. Very Bartok, opening with a vaguely familiar folk melody; the second movement made me think of a Sunday evening in a village, with the sun slowly going down, some of the village people singing a hymn in a village church....The final movement seemed more 'modern', moving some way away from folk music.  I wondered what Adorno might have thought of it, and whether he would have approved - he was not really into incorporating 'folk music' into Serious Music. Minkstimas played beautifully - the orchestral forces had been reduced, and I wondered if that was a good idea. The first violins sounded a bit lacklustre at the beginning of the first movement, and did not seem to match the pianist's energy.

Finally Prokofief's fifth symphony. It reminded me of Russian film music (which I love - Shostakovich's 'The Fall of Berlin' is quite something else). This could have been a story of a young man from a remote village who goes into the city to work in a factory - the second movement (which I know quite well) could have been a wonderful setting for him looking wondrously all of city life, from thousands of people doing gymnastics in a park to the relentless and ever-faster pace of factory work. The third movement might have been him returning to the village, but with city ideas and finally, at the end of the last movement, he might have realised that life will never be quite as it was, and he might be suffering a never-ending conflict in his soul, trying to combine his village outlook with the pressures of city life.

The orchestra came into its own in this piece, with particularly the viola section in the second to fourth movements pouring lashings and lashings of warm dark chocolate over the rest of the orchestra. Welldone, Arunas! The standing ovation was well-deserved!



So for the last fortnight in Vilnius we've had wall to wall contemporary music concerts - but how many did your correspondent visit? No more than two....

Sorry about that, folks. I've been frantically busy with writing, rewriting and yet again rewriting a statistical report on Georgian children in children's homes, with a deadline of yesterday - and it's still not finished. Apart from an unexpected plenitude of medical appointments, studying a statistics course and a course on identity with writings by French philosophers and psychoanalysts that make my eyes meet in the middle.

Also, the fact that I now buy standing room tickets, which are not always available in advance, means that I do not have a pile of tickets looking at me reproachingly, forcing me to go out. And in particular I also resent paying those 3 LT for bilietai.lt who these days have a monopoly on selling tickets for some events.

Then again, last Saturday I was all ready to go to the Filharmonija, when I looked at the website and found that there was no concert. Anywhere in Vilnius. It was 1 November, when all Lithuanians, including musicians, visit the graves of their ancestors - and most of these graves seem to be in villages.

Will do better.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008


I did not realise that Nina Ananiashvili, the inspired director of the Tbilisi State Ballet Company at the Opera House there is still dancing at the American Ballet Theater (sic) - she is well into her 40s.   That explains all the kind reviews her company received when they toured the US earlier this year.  But here it says that next year she will give her farewell performance with the main role in Swan Lake.

Given her history both with the Bolshoi and the ABT (a wonderful company who I saw at the Met some years ago doing a modern 'Cinderella') she has a huge amount of credit abroad. If she now manages to bring her young dancers up to standard (and the signs are good) life for her dancers could become very exciting indeed!


Monday, November 03, 2008

My viola's in 'The Strad'!

Well, almost.

October's Strad, which spent a month lying at the post office, but has finally made it here, has a series of articles about China, it's up and coming string players, and its string instrument manufacture; an article written by David Hume, who it would appear, was at last year's viola congress in Australia together with me.

He writes about a number of companies, and their considerable interest in improving their quality. One of these is KG Instruments, from whom I (somewhat impulsively) bought my 38 cm viola after the congress. It was played at the congress in a comparison of about 35 violas, and did well - in fact it has a clearer sound and better projection than my more expensive German viola (at about a quarter of the price). Does not smell as nice as the German fiddle, though....

The Strad also has a nice article about a festival run by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, in the East Neuk of Fife. This year the Skampa quartet also participated - a wonderful group who I heard play in London a year or three ago.  The SCO has always been a fantastic little orchestra - that festival might almost be worth a trip over there one day.