Friday, May 30, 2008

Almost Prize Winners

The St Christopher Wind Quintet (of Vilnius?) has just returned from the Osaka Chamber Music Competition as one of the 8 finalists out of 230 chamber groups from all over the world. Not bad, eh? They got a medal. Two of the participants share a surname with a flautist Gelgotas - his children? One of these, Giedrius (?) was a member of an international youth orchestra situated somewhere near the Pacific Rim at one stage.

Particularly impressive given the relatively little interest in wind playing in Lithuanian concert halls. You get fiddles, cellos, violas, and pianos - but very rarely wind players. Not that you would necessarily want to put a Lithuanian brass player on the stage all by him- or herself, but there are some nice wind soloists about, Robertas Beinaris for one, and the wind chamber music teaching at the music academy is good. I wonder, though, how many of the St Christopher Quintet actually study/studied at the Academy?

A real prizewinner is Jaroslaw Nadrzycki from Poland, who won fourth prize in the Benjamin Britten International Violin Competition in London earlier this year. Why am I writing about him? He was the first winner of the Jascha Heifetz Competition in Vilnius, at the tender age of 16, way back in 2001. Has entered quite a few competitions in his life - and those are the ones at which he won something. Does not look entirely happy in the photo on this site....

Back to Vilnius - after 11 days without a concert (well, Pink Floyd with the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra might have been educational, but was also missable) tonight the St Christopher String Quartet is playing in St Anne's Church (St. C is the patron saint of Vilnius). I ought to go, but instead have to rush to my friends Sandra and Audrius and admire their newborn daughter. May I be excused!


Monday, May 26, 2008

Not sure about that....

Terry Wogan complains that Russia won the Eurovision song contest because of block voting, since many neighbouring countries gave Russia the full 12 points, to ensure, as he says, their energy supplies. It's all political, he claims - as do others. Nothing to do with the fact that the UK came last, of course.....

I'm not convinced. Not that I know anything about pop music, really, but it seems to me that Russian pop music is still very popular in Lithuania. Despite all. Taxi driver (who are mostly Russian), play Russian pop music; many other small businesses have it on the go...Go into a karaoke bar, even with solid Lithuanians who complain about the Siberian transports, and they sing Russian songs. I wouldn't if I were them.

So, Mr Wogan, you may be barking up the wrong tree - and you can see only sour grapes!


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Fascinating stuff!

My music course is now getting technical...after getting away with a lot of essay writing about why composers compose, what influences them, how do performers influence composers and composition (ask Luciano Berio about the mess people made of some of his 'Sequenzas'), now we are into editing and performing music.

So there were the five recordings of the opening of the Messiah to be compared - what a difference between them! Not only the pitches, but the tempi, ranging from a bouncy skip along the sinfonia, to an extremely lush and soporific sound, from dotted crotchets to double dotted crotchets, depending on how people interpret the same written notes.....Just now I'm listening to a sixth version, by Higginbottom and the Academy of Ancient Music, which has a rather unexpected, and unwritten, rallentando in the first repeat.

Some of this is reflected in different editions, which, laid side-by-side are all incredibly different, especially if you compare 19th-century editions with modern ones - where the former are often more like arrangements than editions, sometimes transposing pieces in passing. Different times, different styles - now we try to return to the original as much as possible. Though what is 'original'? But even the relatively recent Primrose edition of the Bach cello suites (1978) is quite adventurous, showing off (his?) virtuosity to perhaps a greater degree than is absolutely necessary. And more recently Yitzhak Schotten transposed the Bach viola concerto (which in any case is a gobbledegook of a mixture of transcriptions) from E into D....so it still goes on.

One of the pieces we studied and transcribed, with sweat pouring off my brow, was ...a theme by Thomas Tallis (well-known to lovers of English music for other reasons). The tutor talked much about editorial decisions (the 'original' contains a fair number of printing errors, such as signs printed upside down, missing pauses etc) - when I found a further recording on my Ipod (thanks, Overgrown Path) I discovered quite a different reading of the piece, as in 'different notes' - one that Vaughan Williams certainly did not use. And you think printed notes are gospel? No, they ain't!

Now bear with me while I edit a few bars of a four-part Dowland song, complete with lute tablature, and probably printing errors.... (which, I am almost convinced, turns out to be the piece Britten used for his 'Lachrymae' for viola. That gladdens this violist's heart!)


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Now that the Vilnius music season is over....

time for a book review. Thanks to a dodgy Indian meal (no need to mention names in Vilnius) I had the opportunity to spend two days in bed, reading Hanif Kureishi's 'Something to tell me'. I love Kureishi's books, all of which have some autobiographical character (like David Lodge's books), and they are always so funny, quirky and unexpected. Given the autobiographicalness of the books of a writer who was born a year before me, they contain many events and situations I can relate, to - though his London Pakistani(Indian Muslim)/English bohemian lifestyle and background is one that has eluded me, so far.

This one is about an Indian Muslim (Pakistani)/English (surprise!) psychoanalyst who has at least one guilty secret in the past. He also has a history of activities which might surprise some of his patients. Like Kureishi, he is well-connected in the London chattering classes, with various friends in the entertainment business and in politics. (Everyone who is anyone in London these days has such friends). Naturally he is Old Labour and Mr Blair and his ilk come in for some interesting comments not only from him, but also all his friends. Add to this his rather manic sister, his mother who has found love late in life, his own separation and rather interesting son (similar in age to Kureishi's sons), a ghost appearing from the past, everyone telling the analyst all their problems, whether he gets paid for it or not, the fact that in the end the secret will out, and it makes it an extremely colourful and unputdownable book. Like all Kureishi's books it's quite bizarre, which probably makes it all the more real in London.

Kureishi himself has apparently been in therapy for decades, and it shows a little. The book is thinly sprinkled with references to Freud (inevitably), Winnicott and others, one of the afflicted patients shares their problem with an Irving Yalom patient (but one sentence probably does not plagiarism make) - though actually the main protagonist could have been anyone in any profession trading on his reputation. It's a bit unfortunate that he shares his name, Mr Khan, with an American psychoanalyst, whose originally stunning reputation has tarnished a little.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Murder in Maybole

Maybole is a wee place in Ayrshire, Scotland, where I lived probably for the longest continuous time in my life, apart from my childhood in Germany. Maybole is a very small place of about 5000 inhabitants, over an hour's drive from Glasgow, and on the main road to Stranraer. When I moved there, in 1983, there was talk of a bypass being built imminently. As far as I know, it still does not exist.

Given that Maybole is stuck to the side of a hill, like Tbilisi (200 times the size) the views across the Ayrshire countryside are stunning. It has a fairly strong community spirit, though the town is quite mixed between long-term residents and incomers. I would not say that the religious tensions (protestant/catholic) are as strong as they are in other parts of Ayrshire, but they certainly exist.

Last year there was a murder, and yesterday the murderer was convicted. I'm not sure if I knew the murderer (though in my work I may have come across him) - he actually looks a nice guy in the photo accompanying the story, though his history is quite something else. But I do remember the victim, Amjid Ismail, who was working in the family's wee shop opposite a primary school, even as a boy, at the time we lived there.

Let him rest in peace.


Vilnius Guggenheim

Just came across the Geras Blogger blog which has links to the other two designs for the Guggenheim museum in Vilnius. Both I prefer to the Zaha Hadid model. M Fuksas' design is a bit of a cheap idea, linking it to the design of the Vilnius 2009 logo, and it's in startling white - which I am not sure how long it would survive in these days rather rainy Vilnius. Otherwise it's very nice. The Daniel Libeskind design is stunning - with a glass finger design pointing towards the sky and quite a lot of 'green' architecture.

But no, we'll be getting Ms Hadid's stranded hovercraft.


Monday, May 19, 2008

You can see ....

... why Mozart the elder, Leopold of that ilk, is not as well-known as Mozart junior, Wolfgang. The elder is quoted every time there is a debate about the use of vibrato - in his famous violin school he mentions that some people use it as if they have 'the palsy'.

But anyway. Tonight's concert of Musica Humana in Vilnius was all Mozart, père et fils. Frankly, père's symphony in G major is not worth hearing again. Pedestrian? Like a man with a walking stick. Three basic movements, all with repeats - as if a beginner had written it. Haydn was surely writing symphonies at that time, and they at least had some meat. This one was also wobbly on rhythms, and caused the very tiny orchestra of 8 to wobble even more at the start. I've commented on the unnecessariness of having a conductor for an 8-person band before, especially when he insists on conducting every single note.....

The band, incidentally, must have been scraped together a little. The usual stalwarts were there, in the viola, the cello, the oboe, flute and harpsichord, but otherwise it was all strangers (well-known to me, though). It's a question of finding the able and willing, I guess.

The WA Mozart flute and harp concerto followed. Interestingly, it involves a harpsichord, too. In addition to the 8 string players there were also a flute, an oboe, and two horns. When you have this level of wind forces, you need more than a couple of fiddles to each string part to be able to hear the string players. There was a bit of a struggle with this. The soloists, Ula Caplikaite (Flute) and Joana Daunyte (harp), played well. Caplikaite had a beautiful tone - though, was there a bit of improvisation in the final movement? Can you talk about a 'tone' in connection with the harp? The harpist did what harpists do, and I wondered if harpists sometimes see the world through a curtain of strings. I was not always sure whether the two were entirely together; the harpist seemed to be rushing off, particularly in the first movement - but perhaps that was just the visual impression.....

Back to dad and Leopold's Mozart's Missa Solemnis in C major. While the programme mentioned the overall structure of the piece, the usual mass structure, actually the piece had about 15 or 18 parts since each movement was broken down into others. That made it a long concert! Here the choir 'Jauna Muzika' appeared and the usual group of soloists, Ieva Prudnikovaite, Mindaugas Zimkus, Ignas Misiura, and a new one to me, Aiste Sirvinskaite. Vaclovas Augustinas, the choirmaster, took over the conducting - what a relief, compared to the overactive beating of the air before! This piece seemed to be better constructed than the symphony (apart from the choir-only entry at the beginning), though it had strange little mini-cadenzas for the solo singers, who all got a chance to do a little flourish her and there. I was not sure about Ms Sirvinskaite; her part involved a lot of sudden jumps up high, and these did not, generally, work well; don't think she'll make a Queen of the Night. And Ms Prudnikovaite's voice - I don't know how much of a market there is for a woman's voice that is so exceptionally deep. It's not really the done thing for a woman to sing men's parts. It also lacked warmth, I thought, and I wondered if I heard that awful step that I have in my voice where the quality is different between high notes and low notes. Zimkus was fine, and Misiura need not have got out of bed, given the tiny, tiny part Mozart père had written for him.

Somehow today intonation did not seem to be entirely fixed; it's wobbles affected singers, oboist, trumpets, the flute soloist (?), and some others. But this happened only sporadically and overall the packed audience was grateful and gave a standing ovation. Quite unusual in this church!


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Easy on the ear

...and so it was the final concert of the season of the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra (LKO) tonight, in a Filharmonija that was rather better filled than for Justus Frantz's Mahler a fortnight ago. Both concerts were sponsored by the German embassy for their 'German Cultural Spring' festival, both had conductors associated with the Schleswig-Holstein Festival (today it was Rolf Beck). And David Geringas, also associated with that festival, was again in the audience.

It was a very LKO sort of programme - a Mozart symphony (38), a Haydn violin concerto and a Schubert symphony (6). Not sure whether it was entirely necessary to play every single repeat in the Mozart! But the orchestra played well, with nice dynamics, a bit of tension here and there - it was good. The second fiddles sat opposite the firsts which allowed for an interesting, and very visible, dialogue between the groups.

Susanna Yoko Henkel, who's been here before, playing with the National Symphony Orchestra, this time offered Haydn's first violin concerto. It's a very traditional concerto, with harpsichord and string orchestra - though the harpsichord was inaudible. It's also a very lovely little concerto, very rarely heard, and Ms Henkel played it beautifully, rough where it needed roughness and lyrical where it needed lyricism. It was not, as it can be in Lithuania, all beautiful (and boring). This was really fun, and she seemed to enjoy herself very much. So did we. There were a few moments of slightly iffy intonation and attack in places with much figuration, but these were rare. The first movement cadenza was great! She followed this with a bit of Bach, which also suffered slightly, tinily, from inaccuracies - the Haydn had been better.

Finally Schubert's sixth. My heart tends to sink a bit at Schubert, having sat in a symphony (unfinished?) where in one movement, for the entire duration of the movement, the violas go 'teedle-ti-dee' non-stop. Some of his other works can be rather non-ending, too. On the other hand, there is beautiful chamber music, like that quintet with two cellos which is to die for. Listening to this symphony I thought that yes, Schubert does repeat stuff an awful lot (so even the thickest audience member leaves the hall whistling a bit of the tune), but the way the melodies bopped round the orchestra was really very, very nice. In this the flutes, which have a major part to play, took a little while to settle down, and sometimes a melody went missing in the winds; the oboes dropped something at one stage, and the bassoons, taking it on, were a bit inaudible. Otherwise it was very nice - the strings really played very well indeed, and Rolf Beck had them well in his hand in terms of dynamics, attack and surprising - and suspending - pauses.

A nice end to the season. Let them keep up this standard next year!


Friday, May 16, 2008

All 20th century

Two things marred today's concert (exam) at the Music Academy for me today - the quite unnecessary addition of endless poetry between pieces, and the fact that someone nicked my programme during the interval. Luckily I managed to nick one in turn from the assessor's table, otherwise the review might have been even more vague than normal. I was also a bit concerned about the poetry since the name of the reader, Bialobzeskis, was the same as the name on a death advert at the entrance of the music academy. Surely if it had been a relative then he should not have been in the performance.

The concert featured on two doctoral candidates, Egle Andrejevaite (accompanist), and Mindaugas Backus, cello (who will finish his studies next year). To give Ms Andrejevaite something else than a cello to accompany there were also two high-level singers, Joana Gedmintaite and Mindaugas Zimkus, both well-known in Lithuania. I have a feeling it might have been the pianist's final exam, given the amount of flowers she received - but I may be wrong.

The programme was all 20th century, Berg, Barkauskas and Hindemith. As I mentioned in my last review, Berg is no longer a revolutionary, and this piece, 'five early songs' (actually from 'Seven Early Songs', composed in 1905-1908) was particularly un-revolutionary. I thought I got a flavour of Debussy....Could not actually make out any of the German words, but decided that perhaps the Grand Hall of the Music Academy does not have wonderful acoustics for language. The 'Liebesode' (a lovesong) sounded rather strident, but Ms Gedmintaite tended to sing loud in general.....

Barkauskas' concert suite for cello and piano, played by Mindaugas Backus, followed; a piece of possibly 4 or 5 movements (some blended into each other) with bits of minimalism and other styles (I'm not that good at contemporary music). Quite challenging, especially with lots of fast and very low semiquavers (?), some interesting double stops, places where the cello was on its own for a long time (but the piano never got a chance of similar solo work....). It faded to a close. This went very well, apart from some tiny moments of intonation. The phrasing was beautiful!

Mindaugas Zimkus produced a wonderfully dramatic interpretation of Barkauskas' 'Seven 'Airenai' (whatever an 'airenas' may be). Did not understand the words, apart from one or two (and they were Lithuanian so even the drift would not have helped me), but the way he told the stories was awesome.

Finally Mindaugas Backus returned with Hindemith's Capriccio and Phantasiestueck. Both these are quite early works, given that his op 11 canon was written in 1919. And they sounded like this, too. The Capriccio was rather fun. I could not work out why the balance between the cello and the piano was so difficult, given that the piano lid was down. When Backus removed his mute at the end of the piece, all became clear. That's a nasty trick to play on an accompanist - writing a piece that's permanently muted! The Phantasiestueck, too, was very interesting and pleasant (and is definitely not stealable for the viola). As I was listening to Backus performing these pieces, I was wondering - what exactly can they teach him in the Academy? He should be teaching there, if it would not be wasting his time, given the pittance they pay people. But I gather he is doing this doctorate for interest rather than occupational need. Great way of studying music - I know!

Egle Andrejevaite, accompanying everyone, did very well indeed, producing lots of different colours and sounds, and supporting her partners very effectively - though there seemed to be few challenges in terms of rubatos and other moments of exceptionally close cooperation. I wonder about the programming, though. Maybe it was required to have only 20th century music, but even though the pieces were from opposite ends of the century, Barkauskas is relatively conventional - it would have been nice to have something radically different in the programme (not necessarily Cage's 4'33" which in any case is a solo piece, but some Kurt Weill, or something excruciatingly Darmstadtian).

The endless poems at least gave me the opportunity to examine the fabric of the hall, like the double window beside me - the frame of the outside window was thickly coated with foam, but still there was an inch-wide gap between the frames; the inside window was not much better. There was evidence of the outside window joints having been taped over during the winter. Bit ironic that at the exit to the teachers' car park is a sign to conserve electricity, and yet in the winter the heat must pour out of the building.


One (?) gay pas-de-deux?

I was told that in last night's double bill of 'Firebird' and 'Diaghilev's Fantasies' (I'd say!) at the Vilnius Opera and Ballet Theatre the second one was a 'gay pas-de-deux'. The first one was not far off it!

'Firebird', to Stravinsky's music, was an entirely German production. Reading the Lithuanian text about it (with some difficulty) it's about an angel who comes down from heaven (on a rather stunning little platform lit up by a line of red neon lights going into the sky) and who is androgynous...he has a bit of trouble with gender identity (don't we all?). So the male Firebird falls for him, a girl falls for him, there's some weird blue 'Planet of the Apes' character, supported by 10 blue-headed chaps, winding him up - but in the end the guy (the Angel) gets the gal (who herself is supported by about 10 diaphenous lasses in sailor caps). Would have been much more interesting if he had got the 'Firebird'. The Firebird, Eligijus Butkus, has a stunning physique (why did he need bottom-enhancers in the back of his spray-on red running shorts?) and an amazing stage presence. He could lift off higher, though, in his jumps..... Poor Aurelius Daraskevicius was stuck with the rather daft role of the ape (or whatever he was) character. I had not realised how lyrical most of the music is of this piece; somehow I was just thinking 'Rhythm is it', but actually it is very easy on the ear.

Diaghilev's Fantasies is a ballet about a ballet, floating around various corners of Venice, where the Diaghilev 'Ballet Russe' may have been performing. It contains the obligatory children (those ballet school kids need to be occupied), and is about Mr Diaghilev himself who falls for one of his young male dancers, much to that one's dismay. Are we talking child abuse, or abuse of position? Probably. However, the young one manages to escape his clutches, falls for a girl, D. gives up with reasonable grace, and continues life floating away in a gondola, surrounded by his dancers. It's a mixture of tender pas-de-deux ou trois, though the word 'victim' is clearly written across the young dancer's brow, and bits of dances (perhaps from Diaghilev's ballets?), with absolutely stunning costumes, including some that could be straight from Mondrian. Some of the other costumes, appearing to show naked spotted people (think Friesian cows), had the sewn-on pubic hair anywhere between the right location and the belly-button - and do the costume designers not know that children, tend to lack this?

It's a fantastic visual spectacle, and the guy who dances Diaghilev (also Butkus???) is wonderful, as is the one dancing the vulnerable young dancer (who also used bottom enhancers - what is the opera house coming to?). Daraskevicius (A, there's also a Daraskevicius M in the show) is not really the kind of guy to dance happy clowns - that was a bit of miscasting. He's better at 'baddie'. Sometimes the different bits of ballet occurring all over the stage seemed a bit of a guddle, and coordination could have been a bit more precise.

The music for this was much more happy thumpy 19th century ballet music, including a bit of Rossini, than in the first piece. That and the nice costumes made the audience in the packed opera house very happy.

The orchestra.....hmmm. The pit was full to bursting. I was very surprised to spot a couple of female French horn players in the band; that's quite unheard of in Lithuania. The band has played better....the conductor was lathered in sweat more so than usual; the music was quite challenging, technically, and there were a few unexpected solos or late entries. But overall it's a nice evening out to a ballet that is a bit different and yet not too challenging.

And here endeth the season of the Vilnius Opera and Ballet Theatre.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Wiener Melange

Meant to write this tomorrow, but can't get to sleep - first had the Prokofiev cello concerto in my head, and now the second movement of the Schumann piano quintet (E-minor). Drat!

In a small town like Vilnius the music life is soooo transparent, like you would not believe! If only everything else were so transparent....So when you go to a concert, and you see an ambassador there, some people who would probably consider themselves glitterati (in a tiny, tiny way) and who never go to concerts, and people from the music academy including those who also don't usually go to concerts, you know that:
  • the embassy has helped to fund the concert
  • there have been master classes in the music academy
  • the embassy has invited people without whom the hall would be even emptier
If then the ladies of the music academy present their flowers to the performers before the interval, the whole hall knows that they are rushing home to their loved ones. Now, Ladies, you know who you are, it's not as if I see you in every concert every night of the week. I am there, you are not!

But anyway. Tonight's chamber music concert at the Filharmonija, the last of the season, was of the Artis Quartet of Austria, with Daumantas Kirilauskas on the piano. Ticket prices, for a chamber concert, were somewhat stratospheric, but it was possibly worth it. And anyway, we aficionados know that chamber concerts in May are not well-attended, so you buy the cheapest ticket and then sit down in the most expensive seats (those that are free).

The Artis Quartet is quite well-known, it would appear, and they even have had their own series in the Musikverein in Vienna for the last 20 years; that's quite a badge of approval! Their sound is awesome - pure velvet and chocolate; I haven't heard such a smooth sound for a long, long time. They have three valuable old Italian instruments, belonging to a bank, with the first fiddle being made in 2001. They play standing up (except the cellist) - I wondered if they had brought their own fold-up music stand, or whether this was the best the Filharmonija could offer - the stands waved about alarmingly at times.

They started with Mozart's quartet, K428, and this amazing sound. But somehow it did not feel right, even though they have lived in Vienna since at least 1980. It was like Mozart played by Johann Strauss in a Viennese cafe during a Heuriger session. Mozart did not write so many rubatos! And the sound was too smooth, I thought - it could have done with being spikier, and with the first fiddle coming out more clearly. Transparency was a bit lacking here. In some places notes disappeared under the expression. It was interesting - but what would Mozart have thought? The applause was spoiled a little what with David Geringas strolling into the audience from the stage side of the concert hall at that precise moment. Wonder what he is doing in town?

I don't know Alban Berg's quartet (op 3) but was struck by how 'normal' Berg's music is now, compared to 80 years ago or so, when it would have been heard as revolutionary. He's another Viennese, of course. I remember his violin concerto being performed by Tatjana Grindenko a few years ago, to the sounds of general puzzlement in the audience. May have had something to do with the interpretation. Sometimes I get it on my Ipod and it seems quite logical. This quartet seemed to work much better than the Mozart, for the players. I'm not sure about the tempi - the first movement is described as 'langsam' (slow), and the second as 'maessige Viertel' (moderate crotchets [quarter notes]) - the performance seemed rather hastier than that, but it really worked well and was very interesting.

Finally Daumantas Kirilauskas joined them for Schumann's piano quintet, op 44. Another piece I did not realise I knew, note by note! Now here, at last, we had some balance between pianist and string group, not like then and then! So I can no longer blame the Filharmonija for having a noisy joanna, but need to put the blame fairly on the musicians. This was a wonderful performance - occasionally there were moments of disjunct between the pianist and the string players, but it was hardly noticeable. I was a bit puzzled, though, by the second movement - I always thought it was a bit like a funeral march, but here it was a very jaunty funeral skip, rather than a march, every time the theme appeared. And it does so, often. There was a beautiful moment for the viola, which he played a little bit, just the right amount, of rough and dirty. There was another moment, oft-reoccuring, where the cello started a phrase and the viola ended it - this was incredibly smooth and just perfect. This was a stunning performance, and well applauded by the audience, who were rewarded with an encore of the third movement of the piece.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Lithuanian development ....

....as reflected in music education.

I have a friend who's a violin teacher (pedagogue, as they say here). When I first got to know her, about 5 years ago, she was unemployed, living with her parents on their pension.

A year or two later she got a job in an insurance company.

Recently she has been working in a music school, in her original profession.

Now she is complaining that there are not enough children wanting to learn the violin. They want quick results without working, learn the piano (keyboard?) or guitar (quick results on the piano without working? That's not my impression), and the parents do not want to support the learning, either.

Sounds familiar to Western music educators, no? It would be a shame if this wonderful heritage was lost.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Comparing cellists

Is it fair to compare young Povilas Jacunskas, sitting (literally) his cello MA exam today with the likes of Aner Bylsma, Jacqeline Du Pre and Misha Maisky? Maybe it ain't, but we need to aim high, don't we.

Povilas started with the 4th Bach suite for cello solo. Generally this was ok in an Eastern European sort of way (he would not have got away with anything else given his examining board), though at times the phrases tended to run into each other. The Courante was more a sprint-ante, and at the end there were a couple of serious memory lapses, from which he recovered, just. It's so easy to take your eye off the road for a minute, and before you know it, you've gone round the wrong corner. Listening to Aner Bylsma's recording just now, two things strike me: Bylsma, a historic performance specialist, plays it much more funkily, feistily, but, like Jacunskas, he adds unwritten music - in the case of Bylsma it is the percussion of slapping his fingers on the fingerboard (he no longer plays due to injury....), in the case of Jacunskas it was his very, very noisy breathing. Get that looked at!

His second piece was Bruch's Kol Nidrei, for which my gold standard is Maisky's performance at the Vilnius Festival about 4 years ago. Sobbing stuff that was! Jacunskas did well; there were some beautiful little phrases. The ending was absolutely sublime and the audience sat there, stunned. Jacqueline Du Pre's recording, on the other hand, heard as background in one of those films about her, sounds rather pedestrian (as, for that matter, does her Haydn - I caught it on my Ipod, and wondered 'who played that so slowly?' Interesting how times change). Jacunskas seems to have more of an understanding of this than Du Pre (whisper it) who might have played it at the same age, but then he will have had the advantage of hearing Maisky play it.

He finished his long recital with Prokofiev's Symphony-concerto for cello and orchestra, op 125. I'm listening to Misha Maisky as I write. It must be easier to play it very beautifully with an orchestra and lots of different sound colours, rather than a loud piano being hit rather hard by Indre Baikstyte, Jacunskas' Fortvio partner. Maisky makes a very very beautiful sound throughout. I have to say, though, that in places I preferred Jacunskas' youthful and rather rough approach - he did some wonderful things with his bow - his technique there is very impressive. Maisky's playing sounds less effortful, but then Maisky had by the time of the recording in about 2001 done a bit more living and playing than Jacunskas. Some of the phrases come out better with Maisky than Jacunskas, probably again because he only imitates the piano and not woodwind, or groups of strings. I see that both have a little trouble with intonation in the last movement (I'd hate to have to play that piano part!).

This was the last of the string Masters' performances at the Lithuanian music academy (I missed all others, what with being away); I hear, from a very, VERY, authoritative source that they were all very impressive. Welldone!


Monday, May 12, 2008

from this week's Arts Journal

  • an article on the appointment of the first female concertmaster in the Vienna Staatsoper. A Bulgarian, Albena Danailova,got the job. Must be tough taking on that job without working her way through the ranks. Not totally convinced about the accuracy of all the statements, though; eg that the Staatsoper is the training orchestra of the Vienna Phil. The way I understand it, the Vienna Phil provides the players of the Staatsoper. And as for the Vienna Phil being all European, well, that's a lie. The Aussie twins Toby and ?? Lea, while they may have white faces and possibly European ancestry, are still not Europeans.
  • Dumbing down in UK music - part of an occasional series. Though I never thought I'd say it about Nigel Kennedy....it seems he fell out with the team around the Classical Brits award ceremony at which he was supposed to perform. He wanted to do Mozart or Beethoven, but they wanted a piece of the same length as a pop song. Need I say more? More power to Kennedy's elbow.
  • Another musician, Philippe Quint, left his fiddle in a cab in New York. It was a Strad, valued at 4 million USD. When the driver returned it, he got 100 USD as a reward (and he will get concert tickets, and the fiddler will perform for half an hour at the New York airport taxi stand, where probably no-one will be able to hear him). Maybe he would have preferred a little more cash?



On Saturday night I was watching what I thought was the European Final of 'Young Musician of the Year' from Austria, and then, thanks to Anni, I find out that the BBC YMOTY only took place last night, with a 12-year-old trombone player, Peter Moore, from a family of professional brass players, winning it. I did not think 12-year-olds had arms long enough for this! But wasn't the first-ever winner of YMOTY a 13-year-old cellist, Caroline Dale? She recorded the cello solos for the soundtrack of the Jacqeline Du Pre film, and works a lot in films, and the London Metropolitan Orchestra.

So I am confused about where those young 'uns in Austria came from.

Poking around the YMOTY site a bit, I am a little surprised at the jury composition. In 'my day', the first 15 years of the competition or so, the jury members were musical heavyweights, eg Menuhin, Lady Evelyn Barbirolli, Alun Hoddinott (ok, all these are no longer with us), John Manduell, principal of the Royal Northern College of Music. But now?

Step forward, jury of the Grand Final:

  • Nicola Benedetti, aged 20, a former winner. Yes, she's a lass fae Ayrshire (albeit the posh end) and I saw her conducting and solo-ing a little ensemble when she was 9, but even so - a jury member at 20? What does she know about teaching music and developing young people?
  • Richard Morrison, chief music critic of the Times. He at least has studied music, and must have some judgement, but does he have pedagogical knowhow?
  • Paul Daniel, mainly an opera conductor, though he also does orchestral work. Ok.
  • Cathrin Finch, former Royal Harpist to the Prince of Wales. Read that again. I suppose it was wellpaid work, and prestigious and all that. 'Camilla is not in the mood tonight - could you tinkle her something romantic?' Would you want to casually admit to a job like this? Her age is difficult to tell - you know what publicity stills are like, though her biography is not exactly filled with dates, which suggests she is also pretty young. Teaching experience?
  • Ben Foster, orchestrator and conductor for 'Dr Who'; does a lot of orchestrating and arranging for pop bands, but also works with orchestras. Also does not look a minute over 30. But he has previous judging experience - he was in the judging panel for the Blue Peter Music Making project in 2006. (Wipe that grin off your face!).
Did someone say 'downmarket' or 'trivialising'? This kind of jury is an insult to those who participate in the competition - what they need, especially when they are just 12, is wisdom, not glamour.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Style in every way!

As a privileged member of the Filharmonija Klubas (cost 100 Lt per year, as much wine as you can get to at post-concert receptions, though you have to buy the concert ticket, too) I was in a select group hearing the delectable Liora Grodnikaite sing in the club meeting before the evening's concert. It was just a couple of pieces, both French - she seems to be into French music these days, having done a whole concert of them recently. Once was from Offenbach's 'Orpheus in the underworld', the other the habanera from 'Carmen' (the club is not meant to be heavy....). I was amazed by the habanera - there was a moment when she paused so long ....that a less informed audience would have broken into applause.....but we were clinging to the edge of our seats waiting to see what would happen next. Amazing!

The weak moment of the club meeting was the interview with the violin soloist, Antal Szalai, via a summarising translation. The first question was about what education influenced him most in his playing, and the second about his favourite pieces. Both got lengthy answers from Szalai, and a short 'Brahms and Tchaikovsky' (2nd question) in the translation. Bit of a pointless interview, but we got a look at him.

In the concert he played one of his favourite concertos, Brahms, on his Strad. He makes a beautiful, stunning sound (though I sat almost directly above him and was closer to his sound waves than most people), and everything was almost spot on. He seems to be much into very lush bowing, and there were some moments, both in the first movement, and the opening of the third movement, when I would have preferred a grittier attack to provide some variety (like my gold standard Gyorgy Pauk who really goes at it with Hungarian fire), but overall it was a very well controlled and beautiful produced performance. As an encore he played the Adagio and Fugue of the Bach g-minor suite. Somewhere between a romantic approach and a historically informed approach, but with the fugue voices beautifully distinguished (though I did think that a Strad does not deserve anything but a perfect performance). The only thing many of us wondered about was his concert attire. He is quite well-built, and was wearing, it would appear a waistcoat under what looked like a kneelength overcoat, making him look extremely stylish and a bit like he should have been around 100 years ago. He must have been sweltering!

The second half was Holst's planets. I was convinced I had played them, but am not so sure now - much of it seemed quite unfamiliar, and it was not the interpretation. It is more likely that I played them on the viola than on the violin, I think, but I wonder if my orchestra played this at a time when I was already starting to work abroad.

Anyway. Apparently the orchestra had been meant to play it 5 years ago, but could not get hold of the music then (it may be rental-only music). So this was its first experience of the piece. I was surprised - it went well, so much better than some of the routine stuff they dig out regularly. Like someone made a real effort to get into it. Congratulations, Mr Domarkas. The opening 'col legno' was really impressive, they got all the lush bits of tunes, the percussion was good (occasionally a bit all over the place, but good, generally), there was a bit of iffy flute playing, but not too much iffiness (and I see an alto flute was used, too, with the same player also playing the piccolo and the normal flute)...And then, at the end, the ladies of the Kaunas State Choir came along to add their ethereal voices to the last page of the piece....At least there were no words to learn, but, once again sitting almost in the choir, I realised how incredibly difficult it must be to sing more and more quietly and fade away.

It was a great end to the season. Next week we'll have the chamber orchestra and then ....we have to wait for the Vilnius Festival and its eclectic mix of performances.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Reaching the limits of its capacity?

Went to the opera house today, had heard of a premiere I had missed, of two ballets, one being 'Firebird'. (How can this happen? I don't know.)

As usual found the computer screen showing the available seats covered in about 99% blanks - ie sold seats. It's amazing. Even last Thursday the house was packed for 'Red Giselle' - not the newest production, and it is May, while the Filharmonija filled only about 30 - 40% of its seats for Justus Frantz and Mahler.

In earlier years it was nearly always possible to get quite good seats quite close to the performance, but recently that has become virtually impossible. It's a great success for the opera house! How can we increase the capacity for the singers to sing more, the dancers to dance more and the orchestra to play more, so the average Joe Public can go to the performances? Double the orchestra size, for starters?

Found a group of 8 French people trying to communicate with the lady at the box office; not wonderfully successfully despite the use of English. Stepped in and helped out. You have no idea how difficult it was for me to translate straight from French into Lithuanian - kept getting stuck a) on staying in French, and b) on Russian words, before clearing the blockage. I understood both sides perfectly.....


I never thought I would say this

...the final in the European Young Musician of the Year in Austria was an absolutely vomit-inducing, dreadful, dreadful presentation. Never thought Austria had this in it!

So it was in the Stadtpark, between the Burgtheater and the Rathaus, outdoors, with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alexander Markovic (who has conducted in Vilnius, before my blogging days, or when I was away - recently). Presenters were some guy and Lidia Baich, who has played the Prokofiev violin concerto in Vilnius - quite interestingly, but there's something funny about her style. She presents well, though....both in clothes and as a moderator.

Then at the side of the stage there was some jazz band with a crazed fiddler who play the soloists down for their party pieces. What's the point of that? The soloists shot on the stage down some stairs on the left, no handshakes, played their piece, no handshakes, and rushed off to the right. They were stood about 50 cms below the orchestra, a long way from the band leader and the conductor - and the cellists had to sit! Of the 16 people who came to Vienna, 7 made it to the final. Strange mixture of instruments - saxophone from Slovenia (or is it Slovakia), cello from Yekaterinburg in Russia (which I heard yesterday is the most corrupt city over there), a harmonica player from the UK, a pianist from Finland....Because there were 7 finalists, each only played one movement. It ain't like it used to be, when four or five of them played whole concertos! The jury was mainly Austria-based, with a few Brits. Interestingly, all the finalists were from edge-of-Europe countries, leaving a yawning hole in the centre. During the jury deliberations - please dear God, let them finish soon - there were a variety of singers including the Vienna Boys' choir hoofing it up with semi-popular music....Vienna, you should be ashamed of yourself!

Given some of the more obscure instruments, some of the music was a bit weak. The saxophonist, Jan Grigac, played a Pequena Czardas by someone; it was ok; he suffered from being the first, and was a bit stiff. Then Russian Anastasia Kobekina, aged 13, ran down the stairs in a long skirt, carrying her cello (IS SHE CRAZY????? WHAT SORT OF A STUNT IS THIS??), and played the first movement of one of the Haydn concertos most peculiarly. It would have been fine had she concentrated on the music, but every time she felt the camera on her, her eyes swivelled towards it and her mouth broke into a rictus grin. Her grins and faces were totally inappropriate to the music. Gee, I love when musicians communicate to the audience - but it would be useful for the communication and the music to be connected in some way. Did not help that you could almost not hear the cello - some technical problems, I think. It was total Russian sugar and spice - had she been a boy I am sure he would have worn a frilly shirt.

Then a black young Brit called Philip Achille played a harmonica concerto by someone; nice representation of diversity in music. He studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London (let no-one look down at the Harmonica). He also was actually musical and engaged with his little instrument. Interesting.

The Finn Roope Groendahl (from the west of the country?) played a movement of a famous romantic piano concerto (missed that, was blogging). Then, for the sake of the interval, Ms Baich whipped out her fiddle and played something. Missed that, too.

This was followed by Dionysios Gramenos from Greece playing the fourth movement of Francaix' clarinet concerto. It starts very explosively - clearly adjoining the third movement - but here felt like starting with a dive from a 10 m board. He was good, though! His eyes did not seem to connect to anything, but his music was great.

The (also black) Dutch cellist Steven Bourne played Faure's 'Elegie' - a deceptively simple piece, but one that might sort the virtuosos from the musicians. It hung a bit in the middle, but generally was all right. Finally the Norwegian Eldbjorg Hemsing played Waxman's Carmen Fantasy - she was very powerful and very good; and of course playing a popular piece at the end of a competition, which includes a popular vote, too..... difficult.

I think Ms Hemsing will get the public prize; of those I did not miss I would have her, the Greek and the Brit as the three prizewinners, in that order.....

.....I was right about the public prize winner, Ms Hemsing, who went on to get third prize overall (she seemed a bit shocked by that), Roope Groendahl got second prize, and Dionysios Gramenos got a very well deserved first. Interestingly, the 9 semi-finalists also were mainly from Eastern Europe, with a Japanese (?) from Germany, a Korean (?) from Austria, a person with a Lithuanian name from Sweden....plus one from Cyprus. Who says classical music in Europe is not multi-ethnic?

It finished with them all waltzing to the Blue Danube - everyone. I'm sure I will stop throwing up soon. Must check whether my Viennese music agent friend had anything to do with this....


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

We are 10,000

In the last few days this blog has crept past the 10,000 hit/readers mark! Ok, so it's taken a year and a half, and probably 7,000 of them are the same people returning for their regular fix. Do I care? Here we need a birthday candle, or, in Lithuanian style, some fireworks!

Cath, who commented on this post, lead me via her music-with-fashion blog to this rather interesting Lithuanian blog where people seem to go round photographing generally funky young people on the streets and asking them questions. Very nice - it's amazing the amount of ideas young Lithuanians have!


Monday, May 05, 2008

Why can't I get those CDs?

So I read the Fonoforum and the Strad, both of which have recommended CDs. Found a few that are interesting, but really, what is happening to amazon? There are three which I really cannot find, including:

  • Charles MacKerras recording of Mozart Symphonies 38-41 with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (I know I have the pieces already, but not this recording)
  • Vivaldi's Concerti per violino II 'Di sfida' with Anton Steck (they might be some I don't know, especially since four of them had not so far been edited)
  • Vidor Nagy's recording of Viola trios, by Just, Holzer, Glinka, Berger (whoever some of these are, but I like obscure viola repertoire).
All these have had good reviews, but I can't find them. Bit of a pain, really. Previous experience has shown how fast specialist CDs disappear from the shops, and before you know it, someone expects you to pay 150 Euros for them. Over this Scottish dead body!


And yet more media....

Have I been catching up on my reading? This is all courtesy of artsjournal which sends me a selection of articles every week.

So, the head of arts at the British Council (worldwide end, not in any specific country) has resigned. It seems that in her less than one year's tenancy she abolished a lot of departments specialising in drama, dance, film and literature. That's after she abolished the advisory groups of writers, actors and such like. Clearly SHE knew where she was going. Now they are all abolished let's see where the rudderless BC will drift. Keep remembering that it is an NGO and not actually the public relations arm of the UK government! The story of UK arts representation abroad is one which I have whinged about many times. It's just too sad. Compare this with the Germans in Lithuania who are running a German Cultural Spring, and where the last three ambassadors have been keen supporters (and, it would appear, practitioners) of musical events. The current Austrian ambassador is a trained singer, her predecessor was a keen and faithful attender of concerts (bless his heart), and the chap before that, by the delightful name of Florian Hauck, got sponsors to pay for a Boesendorfer grand piano for the Filharmonija. Lovely guys, all of them.
The Brits? It depends entirely on the personality of the ambassador - it's the same in Tbilisi.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has Ricardo Muti as its next music director. I have a feeling they parted with Barenboim in less than fellow-feeling. Did Muti leave the Scala voluntarily or was he sacked? Something to do with autocratic behaviour. Good luck to Chicago!

The BBC Young Musician of the Year competition is running again. It's 30 years ago since it started; I was watching it while pregnant with my son, and it did him a lot of good! It says in the article that they only allow British citizens - not convinced about that. I am sure that my friend Wissam Boustany, who participated in the first year, just after fleeing Beirut, was not a British citizen. The stuff about the candidates in the early years being entirely Anglosaxon is just ...pish! But it's the Daily Telegraph reporting this story. What about Freddy Kempf (German/Japanese heritage), Wissam Boustany (Lebanese), Nathalie Clein (Jewish?), and many others ....I was always impressed by the high number of participants who were clearly not English roses, even in the early days. One way for we migrants to move onwards and upwards, I thought.

Christoph Eschenbach is leaving Philadelphia. also after a slightly troubled relationship (with the orchestra) and returning to do more work in Europe. That'll be nice for us; I wonder if he'll ever come to Vilnius?

They've found another Vivaldi Opera, 'Argippo', in a dark dungeon in Prague - though much of the material has had to be recreated, put together, taken from other operas; really much like busy opera composers of the time used to do, only it was done in recent years in this case. I'm beginning to develop quite a liking for baroque opera these days, after studying Monteverdi's Orfeo, other Orfeos (I have three Orfeos, by three composers, on my Ipod). Would be fun to check out this one!


I'd hate to have an interview like this!

Interviews in music magazines and newspapers are usually sympathetic jobs, with the interviewer carefully helping the interviewee to appear as sympathetic as possible, take a great interest in their lives and career so far, and (not least!) to place their most recent CDs. See an interview of a classical musician (or almost any news story - remember the guy who broke his Strad?)? You can bet your bottom dollar that a CD or book is coming out.

In the May Fonoforum the journalist Kai Luehrs-Kaiser takes the brutal 'I will say the truth' approach when interviewing Danielle de Niese, who Jessica had also interviewed a little while ago, rather more sympathetically, though a bit gossip columnly. Mr Luehrs-Kaiser takes the clinical approach, using a sharp scalpel. His article is headlined 'Brilliant shooting star'. You know what happens to shooting stars? They fade very quickly.

He goes on to describe her as the 'most appetizing new entry' to the Decca catalogue, explains that a mole on her nose is only seen on 2 out of 10 of their publicity stills, comments on her 'Betthupferl-Image' (someone who jumps from bed to bed), though he does also allow her to have a brain. He describes her website which he says almost invites the user to virtually run their hands over her body. Finally he comments on her CD which shows, he says, that her voice is not perfect yet, that she cheats on trills and that there's a difference between her singing registers, that her range of expression is limited emotionally and stylistically, and that her highest notes sound shrill. But I suppose he still enjoyed his interview with a bit of 'eye-candy' - and it's unusual for a Fonoforum journalist to make a journey all the way to Berlin (4 hours on the train) to interview someone.

This edition of FF also mentions that this year Anne-Sophie Mutter won the Siemens Musikpreis (200,000 Euros), half of which will go to her foundation. Former winners included Barenboim, Brendel, Kremer, Rostropovich. My musik teacher's son, Enno Poppe, won the composer's version of this 4 years ago. And my favourite young viola player, Antoine Tamestit, has won the 75,000 CHF Credit Suisse Young Artist Award. I'm told that Antoine now has a professorship at the Cologne Musikhochschule. And he's not even 30!

The magazine also contains a prospectus for the Menuhin Festival in Gstaad, with many well-known musicians including Bashmet (though I heard him play the Paganini a-minor concertino in Russia; it suited his style of playing - slow, not virtuosic), Cecilia Bartoli, young Chloe Hanslip, Vytis Sakuras (a Lithuanian who I had not come across before, but I'm not that much into pianists), Gergiev and his LSO doing Tchaikovsky (there was a moment when I wondered whether Gergiev ever conducts something outside the Russian repertoire, but I think I heard that he did the German repertoire - Brahms 1 and 3 - recently), also Khatia Buniatishvili, the young Georgian pianist, who will also in 'Chamber music connects the world' in Kronberg. Looks like her career is set, with connections like these. (She recently won 3rd prize in the Rubinstein Competition in Israel, but is reported to have been the audience's favourite). This will be some star-studded festival!


Sunday, May 04, 2008

JeKi and Hagen Philharmonic

More music for the masses! The Fonoforum, a German classical music and jazz magazine, though actually, based in Cologne, hardly ever reports on anything outside Northrhine-Westphalia (don't they get overnight subsistence?), in its March 2008 issue reported on the project 'Jedem Kind ein Instrument' (one instrument for every child). It's a project that takes place in the Ruhr valley, a formerly industrial wasteland of Germany which is regenerating itself as a cultural oasis (it will be European Capital of Culture in about 2010).

The project started in the city of Bochum, where the local municipal music school (each German town has one) began providing instruments to every child of primary school age. Now it has spread across the whole of the area, with funding of 50 million Euros from a variety of sources, not least the old lady who provided a violin for children to use, which only turned out to be a Strad! 13 orchestral instruments are included, as well as instruments native to the countries of migrant children - though I assume that all children can choose all instruments. I'm not sure whether the full maintenance costs have been considered - there need to be sufficient instruments for the children for 12 school years, theoretically, though some will buy their own instruments, and others will give up. The overall impact of this has not yet been evaluated - it's too early for this. Let's hope it works out - it would grow a fantastic audience for concert halls, CDs etc.

In the same neck of the woods resides the Hagen Philharmonic Orchestra. For a large city Hagen is truly, but truly a dump. Ugly like you would not believe. The orchestra was always pretty iffy, too, though in recent years they got a new conductor, Anthony Hermus. He's done a recording of Wagner's 'Tristan and Isolde' which is well praised by Fonoforum. The orchestra must be on its way up! (Though did I hear that Hermus has gone on to better places?). NB My last violin teacher was a violist in this orchestra.

Final bit of unknown trivia from Fonoforum - I did not know Justus Frantz also had an older son (he has one of about two years or so). This son, Christopher Tainton (he's taken his mother's name), born 1975, studied in Hanover with Kaemmerling (a very highly regarded piano pedagogue); Christoph Eschenbach (who used to do concerts with Justus Frantz) is his mentor. He also spent some time, as a child, shadowing Leonard Bernstein, when the latter worked at Frantz's Schleswig Holstein Festival.


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?


Friday, May 02, 2008

Male Altos don't grow on trees

..especially in Lithuania. Would they need a specialist teacher in their education? Tonight's Orfeo (reviewed here before) had at least two different vocal soloists and a dance soloist.

Strangely, Yaniv D'Or is also an Israeli, like Alon Harari, who sang the role last time. He describes himself as a countertenor, but gee, he hit the high spots (did Gluck really write so high in the first act?). Is it something in the water in Israel? I thought the famous aria could have done with a bit more 'sobbing' during the aria rather than afterwards. On the whole he could have acted with more emotion; on the other hand, he does have a beautiful voice, was clearly audible, and was generally spot on (one aria seemed to have a surfeit of suspensions, but looking at the score, these were written. So that's all right.)

Regina Silinskaite was Euridice was all right; nothing to set the heather alight, but sound. Poor Jurgita Lopetaite as Amor did all her singing suspended from the ceiling, and it seemed that at the end she was not removed from the stage as early as she would have preferred.

Strange stuff, though, about Egle Spokaite. Formerly (still?) the Prima Ballerina, almost the Assoluta of Lithuanian Ballet, she was advertised as the dancer. (In the January performance, the dancer, a different person, was advertised as 'participating'. Bit of a difference there). Egle wafted all over the stage all the time; mostly representing the feeling of Euridice that still was with Orfeo; though she was also the one blessed spirit (with four apprentices following her). I'm sorry to say that, although Ms Spokaite is/was a fabulous dancer, often her dances are much of a muchness. She always does some thing pointing her left index finger in the air, when she dances people who go mad, the hair is let out, and there are a lot of other movements by which you recognise her. I don't like this. The dancing, if it has to be, should be about the piece being performed and not about the dancer. There's also the applause discrepancy - the singers bow, the dancer takes forever waving arms through the air, bending knees, getting back up, waving a bit more - It's a bit off. I honest can't remember a dancer being so involved in this show before. Strange.

The orchestra did not bad, apart from the oboist losing a beautiful legato moment in the overture (this is classical music, forget the 'one affekt per piece' of baroque music), and the flautist doing likewise during the dance of the blessed spirit bit. There was also some ineffectual rattling of tambourins at the end of the piece, but never mind.

But why was the interval in the middle of the second act, between the furies and the blessed spirits?


Thursday, May 01, 2008

Chamber Music Connects the World

....well, the continental plate which holds Asia and Europe together, at least. It's the festival that takes place at Kronberg Academy in Germany each couple of years, involving Gidon Kremer, Yuri Bashmet, Lynn Harrell, Gary Hoffman and Irena Grafenauer. They then play with young 'uns, it's all on TV and so on.

Of this year's crop of young 'uns, I have heard (or heard of) the violinist Noah Bendix-Balgley (who participated in a very fine re-premiere of a Stamitz concerto for violin and viola last year), Nils Moenkemeyer who I am sure has won a prize or two with his viola playing, and the pianists Ksenia Bashmet and Khatia Buniatishvili, whose concert in Tbilisi last year I reviewed here. As far as Ms Bashmet is concerned, for all that she is a lovely lovely person, I have also heard her piano playing. Maybe she has developed in the last four years since I heard her (twice; her reliability as a partner is faultless, but her playing lacks soul) - somehow this smells of outrageous nepotism. You would not expect anything less of Russian musicians, though.