Saturday, January 31, 2009

What the heck is the matter with the FIlharmonija?

Call itself the Capital of Culture? It would make a cat laugh!

Strolled over to the Filharmonija tonight for the usual Saturday night concert, looking forward to hearing the delightful Philippe Graffin play whatever, with the even more delectable Robertas Servenikas conducting. Found the Filharmonija in darkness, totally deserted. Seems that the concert took place yesterday. Since when does the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra play on a Friday?

It's the third time in as many months that I walked over there on a Saturday and did not find a concert. Ok, once I was too late and did not get a ticket; another Saturday it was a Frank Zappa evening (definitely not with the LNSO).

In January the orchestra had two whole concerts at the Filharmonija; I would have expected four.  So one Saturday they played in Warsaw - could they not have done that another night of the week?  Muzika Humana, a usual Sunday standby every few weeks, isn't performing till March. Not good enough! 

I hear that the crash of the Lithuanian airline, flyLAL is having an impact on the year of culture, too. It's possible that they had some sponsorship arrangement, apart from the question of flightbookings. Not sure what financing the sponsorship arrangement was based on.

Meanwhile the North Korean Symphony Orchestra is repaying the gesture of the New York Philharmonic and travelling to the US for a return match. Some people wonder if the whole orchestra will return to North Korea. I would have thought that their standard is not soooo high that people would very easily get jobs in the US....


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Forward Planning

It was good that at the Filharmonija last night the Brahms violin concerto was placed at the end of the concert, with two unknown works before the interval. Stops the audience from running away....

It was the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra, under their conductor, the talented Modestas Pitrenas, with Pavel Berman, now living in Italy, as the soloist.

The programme, as often happens in the Filharmonija, was a bit of a mess, with the first two pieces played back to front, compared to the programme text. It was even more confusing since the piece by Alvydas Malcys, a living Lithuanian composer (and where was he?) 'Games according to MozART' had a distinctly South American sound - with South American rhythms and I could have sworn some bits of familiar South American melody as well. There were tiny hints of Mozartian motifs. The conductor could have brought out the rhythms more, and frankly, the winds, who had another motif, were a mess.

The confusion arose because the second composer was the Brazilian Villa Lobos, with his sinfonietta in the memory of Mozart, composed in 1916. This had no South American flavour whatsoever! It was an ok piece - though the cellos, who had a lovely solo at the end of the second movement, totally lacked confidence, and eventually were all together, but every start of this motif was made by one cello with the others joining hesitantly. Shame, that.

Finally Berman joined the band for Brahms' violin concerto, which I love.  He played this beautifully, and there we had also a lovely oboe solo in the second movement. The final movement was interesting - he played it very roughly, the way I like it (almost excessively roughly at the end, but with lots of spirit). Weird though that he always started the main motif (second note) with a down bow, where I would have expected an upbow - I could not look at this after the first hearing!
As an encore he gave some lovely polyphonic Bach, played beautifully and lightly, with little vibrato - the way I like my Bach. That was wonderful!

The Kaunas orchestra could do with some more polish, but I hope it will get there. Interesting how many women there were in the winds - and there was a female percussionist, too. This is not so usual in Lithuanian orchestras.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Made for oboe

Last night's concert at the Kongresu Rumu was the last in a series of a Christmas festival, organised by music academies in Vilnius, St Petersburg and Moscow, the Russian Embassy and funded by a variety of sponsors, including Russian and Lithuanian radio stations. I know this because Viktoras Gerulaitis, the announcer, told us this in Lithuanian and in Russian - lots of diplomats, including from Russia, presumably, were there. My heart sinks when Gerulaitis steps on the stage, seeing as he is rather garrulous, but this time he stuck strictly to the script - which in itself was rather long.

A half-empty concert hall then heard the Moscow-based chamber ensemble 'Hermitage' under Aleksey Utkin perform pieces by JC Bach, Britten, Bruch, Shostakovich and Piazzola. All pieces had been arranged by Utkin to be for oboe plus support - this arranging to suit soloists seems to be a characteristic of East European groups; Kremer does it in his Kremerata Baltica (though not necessarily himself) as does Bashmet with his group.  I suppose arranging pieces gets round copyright law, too, at least for the arrangers.   The group was young, and consisted of 7 women, 2 men, Utkin and an unnamed female flautist. (Upper string players out east tend to be female.)  Utkin and the flautist (perhaps his wife??) both played golden instruments.

I was amazed by JC Bach's sinfonia concertante for oboe, violin and flute. This was an exciting performance, with nice modern bow strokes (not the usual East European indulgence of beautiful sounds), beautifully presented. The flute had a wonderful warm sound - don't think it has anything to do with it being golden.

The Britten pieces were interesting. I did not know any of them - there was a fantasy for oboe and strings, and two other pieces. They sounded very percussive, and very advanced for Britten, who I know more for his Peter Grimes, his Lachrymae for viola and the Simple Symphony.  The last of these, 'Vapsva' in Lithuanian, sounded more like the Britten I knew.

Bruch's 'Kol Nidrei' seems to be taken up by anyone who can play an instrument these days. Originally written for cello and small orchestra, it's in the standard repertoire for viola, and there is a violin version, too - plus an oboe version, it would appear. A piano took on the role of a harp. The group shot into this piece - I think it's a mournful piece, but the beginning was rather on the fast side. I'm not really sure about the oboe (and probably also the violin) playing this; the pitch is just too high and the sound too penetrating. Maybe a clarinet would be better, if it has to be played on a wind instrument. The ending of it, when they slowed down and Utkin created a much more melancholic sound, was beautiful, though. Some twat in the audience applauded as the last note was dying...  (The audience was not the usual concert-going crowd in any case - they applauded everywhere.)

The second half was more entertainment-like; some Shostakovich dances from a ballet score (but not Tea for Two) which I had not heard before. And finally some Piazzola pieces, which came across a bit boring. First they were all the pieces everyone knows, and secondly four of the five were rather mournful pieces (Ave Maria, Muerto del Angelo, Oblivion, and Adios Nonino) - the Libertango at the end was almost not like the one I recognized....

The encore was a piece by 'Josef Gaydn', as the Russians tend to say. A beautiful Rondo for oboe and strings.

The band played very beautifully indeed, and if this is the modern Russian approach to music, it's well worth exporting. Their versions of the classical pieces would support them well in Western Europe and the US. It was only that the programming was a bit mixed, but maybe that was needed for this kind of event and musically fairly illiterate audience. The lead cellist seemed to be a bit of a mainstay of the band - she was great. Utkin's oboe playing is superb; strangely he did not seem to have to do all that housekeeping that you see other oboists do, fiddling with bits of paper, or the mouthpiece - maybe he just has a better quality of oboe? 


Friday, January 23, 2009

They faked it!

You will remember the 'Air and Simple Gifts' played at the Presidential Inauguration by Yo Yo Ma, Izthak Perlman, Anthony McGill on clarinet, and Gabriela Montero, a product of the Venezuelan sistema? I was wondering how people would hear it.

Turns out that 'played' was not quite the right word to choose, see here. They had recorded it two days before, and finger-synched it.  It was too cold to really play, risk of broken strings and all that. This explains the earpieces they all wore. I did wonder if they had used cheaper instruments for this outdoor gig (seems they did).


Missed a good 'un

Coming back from a very nice dinner with friends, I passed St Catherine's church and saw people pouring out, including members of the choir 'Jauna Muzika'.

Seems they had put on a performance of Haydn's 'Creation' with the St Christopher Orchestra.

Damn! I missed it - just don't seem to have my finger on the pulse any more.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Making do....

What with the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra having to household its resources - no concerts on two consecutive Saturday nights (in the Capital of Culture??) - for 3 Bruch, 2 Mendelssohn and a Vieuxtemps violin concerto on Wednesday night, I just had to make do with the Digital Concert Hall, The Berlin Philharmonic, Bernard Haitink, and Mahler's 7th symphony.

This time I had the sound sorted out, and the symphony roared through my flat. Still need to find a way of linking the laptop to the TV - unfortunately that laptop which works better does not have an output slot....

How can one review an orchestra as perfect as this? The winds here are like a finely-tuned Porsche, whereas those of the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra are more like an old Soviet lorry which has difficulties in starting - as evidenced in Malov's wonderful performance of the Mendelssohn violin concerto.  Some of those solos, oh the trumpets, or the oboes - just brilliant!

Haitink is a fairly quiet conductor; I suppose he is not so young - and maybe it's nice for the orchestra not to have someone grimacing quite like Rattle.  I don't know the symphony well enough to review it in detail, but the way the themes and motifs moved round the orchestra - it was just brilliant! Next concert on Saturday (do they always do Saturdays? That might make it difficult to rush back in time from the Filharmonija, when they work).

I see I missed Zubin Mehta, Murray Perahia and Beethoven 4 - need to check the archives to find this.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Don Giovanni

Actually, it's a production that's about 5 years old, and it's beginning to show. It's lost about 20% of its performance instructions (doesn't anyone write them down?) which takes some of the fun out of it. I think I've watched it often enough now - about 5 or 6 times.

Some of the singers have changed. Leporello was originally sung by Vladimiras Prudnikovas, before his brief spell as a rather ill-fated culture minister. Now it's sung by Liudas Norvaisas, who has a very nice voice indeed - but he is missing a few performance instructions.

Sigute Stonyte, one of the original cast, continues to be great; with a nice voice, and very funny. There also one or two performance instructions were lost.

Kestutis Alcauskis, as the young companion of Donna Elvira, also has a beautiful voice, less nasal than that of his predecessor, but was lacking colour a bit. When a guy fiddles with his .... sword in a threatening kind of way, one would expect some steel in the voice, too.

Joana Gedmintaite, who is one of the younger stars of the opera house, sounded a bit very light and very bright.

Something funny about the orchestra, though. Although the conductor did his best (though does he have to grunt quite as much? it's not a tennis match!) the strings sounded rather dull, almost deadened. The violins have some wonderful lines in the overture, but I could hardly hear them over the winds - and I was sitting in the front row, almost on top of them. Maybe the sound carries better to seats further away.

The opera house was packed, though, and people enjoyed it. If you are not too fussy, and you like Mozart operas, you might as well go.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Russian success for Scottish Opera?

The Scotsman suggests here that the production of Lucia di Lammermoor, originally by Scottish Opera, but imported wholesale to the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, got a 15 minute standing ovation, due to the wonders of the Scottish Opera production.  Gergiev had seen it at the Edinburgh festival and insisted that the production should be immediately seen in St Pete's. So the costumes, sets and producers rushed over to Russia (across the steppes, the Scotsman suggests - there are no steppes between Scotland and St Pete's), but the singers and everyone were Russian.

Including Anna Netrebko, who returned after 6 months of maternity leave.

So who exactly was the standing ovation for, I ask myself.


Malov's video

Here's a video of the Heifetz competition winner, Sergey Malov (thanks, Ham); I seem to be unable to copy it into my blog.  Glad to see that he already has an agent.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

The right guy won!

If the jury at the third International Jascha Heifetz Violin Competition had made any other decision about the winner last night, they might have been lynched!  From the moment he finished his first phrase, there was not a shadow of a doubt who would be the head-and-shoulders above all winner!

But first things first. Michail Pochekin, an 18-year-old Russian, living in Madrid and studying, already in his 5th semester in Cologne, began the evening with a robust and masterful performance of Viewtemps' fifth violin concerto. He produced beautiful contrasts, from very powerful bow strokes to extremely lyrical moments, playing a violin made by his father Yuri. He could have done with physically hiding a little less in the orchestra, though, but this will come.

He was followed by Evgeny Sviridov, a lanky Russian 19-year-old studying in St Petersburg, with Mendelssohn's violin concerto, shooting off into the first movement and dragging the orchestra with him. This seemed a totally effortless performance, beautifully, if a little introvertedly, played. (Did he come to the reception afterwards? I do not remember seeing him there).

Then we had three ladies and three times Bruch's first violin concerto, the UK's favourite piece of classical music for many years. Luckily we don't hear it that often in Lithuania.....First was Sunny Tae, 21, from South Korea, who was very much in control, and was having fun, with a wicked little grin shooting across her face now and again. She seems to be a seasoned performer, comfortable on the stage; her playing certainly matches her first name! I hope we'll see her again in Vilnius.

Definitely not having fun was Ieva Paukstyte, aged 23, from Lithuania, whose best day it was not. She had a few glitches, and I wondered how much in that situation it will take for a performer to throw down the fiddle and run from the stage. What goes through your mind at moments like this, when the orchestra relentlessly moves forward?

19-year-old Justina Auskelyte, also from Lithuania, had a better evening than her predecessor. Smiling constantly at the conductor (and someone up in the balcony; I began to wonder if this was a nervous thing), bits of steel occasionally flashed through from her personality, which is clearly there. Both Lithuanian ladies started the Bruch extremely slowly (they had different teachers....Justina's was in the jury....), but for this performer it also seemed quite effortless.

But they were all eclipsed, totally, by Sergey Malov (25) from Russia, studying in Germany. What a performer! He stands right at the front of the stage (as he had done during the first round) and communicates with everyone; the audience, the different groups in the orchestra, the conductor. And wow, his playing - it was electric! Like Sviridov, he played the first movement faster than I am used to (but it is an Allegro con molto, I suppose). The second movement was just stunning, soooo light....In the final movement, played at breakneck speed, he left the orchestral woodwind section floundering in his trail; this moment comes up, alas for the band, too often in this movement, and every time it came up they floundered.  It was a stunning, speechless-making performance - the audience erupted when he finished!  Thank goodness, the other performers will have thought, that he did not play first.  His playing reminds me very much of the violist Antoine Tamestit, who is only 5 years older or so, and similarly a communicator with his own style of playing.  These two would be my dream team for Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante - I just wonder if one stage could hold two big personalities such as these.  Having chatted with both I can tell that they are also very charming guys, and I am sure they could give an electric performance of this piece.  Malov, however, is also a man of impeccable taste, playing the viola, too - he hopes to study with Tabea Zimmermann, and Tabea, if you are there, take him! - so I am not sure if a Sinfonia Concertante performance with him on violin might actually happen, or whether they would both fight over the viola part!

For the winner the jury had no choice but to award the first prize to Malov; second prize was shared between Aukstyte and Pochekin, and third between Tae and Sviridov. Myself I would have swapped the two ladies around, and I suspect I am not the only one who thinks so.  But the second prize went to a Lithuanian.....

While we were waiting for the jury to return, we were treated to 17-year-old Dumitru Pocitari from Moldova playing Paganini's 17th caprice, for which he had won a special prize. Very nice performance, occasionally a bit iffy intonation-wise, but otherwise very controlled.  It would be nice if this competition (or another, he has played in many, like his little sister Lilia) gave him a chance to get out of Moldova and study abroad.  Agne Doveikaite from Lithuania, 25, played her interpretation of the 'Threshold' by Feliksas Bajoras (special prize), with huge amounts of flautando - perhaps a bit excessively. From where I was sitting she was almost totally hidden by the music stands, but I knew that as she worked her way from left to right, she would finally appear.

Finally Malgorzata Wasiucionek, 18, from Poland, in a stunning dress, played Heifetz' arrangement of fragments from Porgy and Bess, very nicely - could have had a little more come and go, but you'd probably need to grow up in the US scene to absorb this style. She might have been a more suitable finalist than.....; ah well.

 Concert organisers of the world, engage Sergey Malov!


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Gia Kancheli Dice Game

As part of the Heifetz competition celebration, last night the Kremerata Baltica played at the Filharmonija, prior to their tour of Germany, their usual programme of fairly contemporary music (but it was all very listenable-to).

These days the Kremerata, unless Kremer is the soloist, plays without a conductor, but is very ably led by the leader Dzeraldas Bidva, or his blonde female stand partner (they change seats a lot).  This is somewhat surprising, given Kremer's comments in one of his books on the Orpheus Orchestra, which always plays without a conductor - at that time he definitely disapproved of this process. Times change, people change.

They started with Arvo Pärt's Passacaglia, with Kremer as the soloist. A nice piece, effectively played. This was followed by Penderecki's Chaconne from the 'Polish Requiem', played by the orchestra only. Also very good. Then followed Kancheli's 'Silent Prayer' (well, it was a concert in memory of Heifetz, though he did not live to hear most of these pieces), written for Kremer's 60th and Rostropovich's 80th birthday. I wonder if Rostropovich ever played it - he died shortly afterwards. Here the cellist was the Lithuanian Giedre Dirvanauskaite.  I am extremely fond of Kancheli's music. But having heard a lot of it, also in the Rustaveli Theatre in Tbilisi, where he is the music director, I am beginning to think that he tends to stick to the same motifs over and over again. There was the familiar 'eeeoh, eeoh, eeeoh' for example, which brought to the mind an actress keening over a dead body or some other sadness.  Reminds me of Mozart's dice game where you roll dice, get a bar for each number, and still end up with a minuet. There was the extremely high violin line. Interestingly, there was also a singer, but on tape - I could not work out the language, but it might have been Georgian - which would explain the need for the tape. I wonder who she was. It was a lovely piece.

After the interval we had Georgs Pelecis (Latvian??) 'Zydintis jazminas' (something to do with jasmine). Kind of lighter music, with one main theme that appeared over and over again. It was written for violin and vibraphone, played by Kremer's favourite percussionist, Andrei Pushkarev. I never thought that an instrument you hit with a stick could be played with so much emotion. It was a wonderful performance, but a bit light for my taste. Would have thought that well-marketed it could make quite a lot of money....

Raminta Serksnyte's 'De profundis' followed. I had expected anything called 'de profundis' to be a very solemn, dark piece - but this was quite bright, fast, energetic - and very listenable-to. Played with lots of energy and enthusiasm.

Finally we had Gliere's Octet, in a string orchestra version. At the beginning it sounded a bit of a mogre (Scottish technical term), but after a while it settled down. Pretty much romantic music, with lots of folksy elements. A sign of its time, I suppose.  It was very pleasant. For those who wish to know, Gliere was trained by Tanayev and Ippolitov-Ivanov in Moscow.

This was the end of the concert. But of course the maestro had to return to the stage, and he did, with an encore of a Liszt waltz. He played this beautifully and lightly, so lightly that I thought on occasion he missed a string in double-stopping.

The Kremerata is a strange beast; they play lots of music where the ink is still almost wet, but it is always very accessible, leaning slightly towards the light side. Maybe that's the secret of their success?


Heifetz competition Part I

Seems like at the last Heifetz competition I had more time to listen, to all participants of the first round. This time I listened to only six of the 26 who turned up (out of 37 who were admitted).

Of the six, two were very good - though the Russian, Maxim Kosinov, who played by far the best Bach I have ever heard in this competition, let himself down by seeming to be less engaged in the music than he could have been. That is his personal style, I suppose, but it's a shame. Clearly, though, he is a huge baroque music expert.

I don't know what is so difficult about playing Bach, apart from those technical bits - though no-one I heard played the Chaconne from the second Partita. Bach has something to say, and he says it in sentences, with full-stops. But people generally, apart from Kosinov, did not seem to notice those full-stops.

There was a modern piece, 'Threshold', by Felix Bajoras, which I am told is very difficult - not so much technically, but in terms of expression, especially since he did not add any performance instructions, including tempo. Ani Batikyan from Armenia, working in Glasgow (!), introduced some very interesting flautando effects into the piece. The funkiest performance of this, though, was by Sergey Malov, who ended it on a joke. I know who my money is on for this competition! The only Lithuanian I heard, Justina Auskelyte, showed some personality in her playing which was nice.  Malov and Auskelyte, of these six, are in the final.

After the first round decision there were some mutterings from other candidates. It's always thus, of course, and competitions are competitions. The mutterings involved comments along the lines 'they are little girls who play what the teacher tells them'. I have to admit I was surprised about one of the people in the final (who I did not hear but whose playing I know from other occasions, though these are some time ago).

Also not totally convinced about the decision to give the prizes for the best performances of individual pieces to those not in the final. Of course, it is a very kind decision and makes the prizes go around a bit further. But they are the prizes for the BEST performances. Did these people really give the BEST performances of these pieces, or are they the BEST performances BY THE NON-FINALISTS?


Friday, January 09, 2009

Young talents

Tonight's concert at the Filharmonija was not only the first concert of Vilnius, European Capital of Culture, but also the opening event of the third Jascha Heifetz violin competition. Organised together with the European Music Competitions for Youth organisation it featured four young violinists playing with the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra under Neil Thompson.

It started with Mozart's 17th symphony, played in a rather historically informed style. The second movement could have been considerably lusher, I thought (it should be a bit cheesy), and the horns had some iffy moments. It was standard fare for the chamber orchestra, with the basses doing their best to hang in with the cellos (same, rather complex, line).

The first soloist was 16-year-old Heyyoon Park, of South Korea (are they all called Park when they are not called Kim?), studying at the Hanns Eisler Musikhochschule in Berlin. Wearing a gravity-defying dress which screamed 'wardrobe malfunction' (but it never moved), the moment she started playing I thought 'wow', what a sound! There were a few iffy moments, and I thought she might have been a shade ahead of the orchestra, but she produced the Mozart 4th violin concerto beautifully, very clearly audible (eat your heart out, Vilhelmas Cepinskas) and with a stunning tone throughout, at times sounding almost like a viola. The second movement could have been even more lyrical, but she'll get there.

Following the interval, we heard 11-year-old Lilia Poticari (there's another Poticari in the competition?) from Moldova. She's been winning prizes since she was 6! She played Balys Dvarionas' 'By the pond' and Saint Saënss' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. Some time ago I had played a Dvarionas piece on the flute and was not impressed; nor was I impressed by this piece. He was a kind of folksy composer, take a bit of tune, play it, then an octave or two higher or lower - right cliché stuff; I could write music like that. But he was probably a guy of his time and his country. After all, Bartók wrote folksy stuff, too. Well, what can you do with a piece like this? Young Lilia has a rock-solid technique, with impeccable intonation, and is doing well on the musical front. She stands on the stage like a total professional and worked well with the conductor and the orchestra. The Saint-Saënss was awesome; could have been a bit cheesier on the introduction, but she is probably too young to make fun of such music. She only fell down on her professionalism when she did not return for a further curtain call.

Stepan Tarara, from Heidelberg, played Paganini's cantabile and cantarella (in which a poor glockenspiel player had the choice of one note on his instrument, played in small batches - what was Paganini thinking of when he wrote that part?).  His proud mum, beaming, but I mean beeeeaaaaaming, sat in the seat I had vacated for the second half, camera at the ready. Tarara is a student of Zakhar Bron, always a sign of quality. Also played everything spot on - a bit on the safe side, I thought; could have had more zest.  Seemed like a nice guy, though.

Diana Galvydyte made up for any lack of zest earlier in the evening. Wearing a spray-on dress that offered ample interesting views to those watching from behind and above, she laid down a funky Carmen Fantasy in the style of a totally ruthless, smoking hooker called Carmen. She played it dirty, she played it reckless, reminding me of the wonderful Prokofiev concerto she played for the Heifetz competition four years ago. It was brilliant!  She's clearly coming on very nicely, plus, being a bit older than the others, her experience and maturity showed.

A very interesting evening indeed.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Digital Concert Hall

So there I was, logged into the digital concert hall. Still have not worked out how to link the laptop to the TV; seemed to have all the right connectors, or at least connectors that fitted into something in either laptop or TV, but somehow pressing the function key and F4, which should move the picture to the TV, did not do much, though both screens flicked when I pressed it.

So, onto the main computer. It does not half roar when it has to work hard! I had a reasonably large screen, about 15", but could barely hear the orchestra over the computer - and that at the good radio received turned to full volume.

Off to the tiny mac; no buzzing here, just a very tiny picture with a five-inch Simon Rattle.  Heard the orchestra most of the time except in the fourth movement of Brahms' first symphony where the orchestra does some very quiet pizzing.

The programme was Dvorak's Slavonic Dance (one of them), and Brahms 1 - not exactly a full-length concert, and I hope the people in the fairly packed hall also paid only about half-price. After the Dvorak there were endless self-congratulatory speeches about the Digital Concert Hall, Deutsche Bank, etc, in German and English. A chap called Terry Martin spoke rather charming German.

I found it difficult to get into the concert, though, till nearly the end. Maybe the screen was too small - I really need to sort this.  The playing was of course very nice. It's great to see a whole bank of strings move as one, and it was the bowing of the first violinist (and all his crew) which finally got me hooked, finding myself leaning over the desk and peering into the screen.  It's so amazing seeing these people play this music so easily and full of enjoyment!

But I need to improve on the technology!


Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year's Concerts

I'm into my third one in 24 hours....

First the Berlin Phil under Simon Rattle, with Mrs Merkel (and Mr Merkel, a nice-looking chap) sitting somewhere in the audience - got in at the end when they were playing Gershwin, unless it was Bernstein....Nice stuff, went with a swing.

Then this morning the Vienna New Year's concert with the Vienna Phil under Barenboim; his first time to conduct that concert. He said that he had often watched it on TV and dreamt of conducting it. Don't we all? Apparently, when he gave his first concert in Vienna, aged 10, it had to take place in the afternoon, what with the child labour laws (which makes me wonder about the young harpist who sometimes does evening performances in Vilnius - what are our child labour laws like?). It was wonderful! He conducted from memory - quite a feat, given that these pieces are not usually in his repertoire, I would have thought. It had some lovely touches - including a very funny last movement of Haydn's farewell symphony. They do it in Lithuania every year, and the conductor conducts dead straight, right to the end - but Barenboim made a comedy routine out of it. In the Radetzky March he controlled the audience to within an in of their lives. In his brief speech he made reference (inevitably) to peace in the Middle East. Some children were dancing rather delightfully, but they made me think of yesterday's performance of the Christmas Oratorio with Harnoncourt and Peter Schreier, where the high voiced soloists were also children (boys), playing a fully professional role, but children who dance, however delightfully, are children who dance. (In the concert's interval Europe's other capital of culture, Linz, was introduced - no mention of Vilnius. Shame!)

Just now a concert of opera music from Italy (Venice?), under Georges Pretres, who last year conducted the Vienna Phil. Oh dear...if he is not lead by a soloist, his tempi are slow to stop. They did that lovely Bailey's duet (British TV watchers will know what I mean), in an orchestral arrangement - the swing was totally lost, phrases interrupted, and the violinists' arms were not long enough to hold the notes. Similarly that slaves' choir from Nabucco - every word was ennunciated very clearly and slowly, with plenty of space for breathing in between. Every. Word.