Monday, February 23, 2009

Busk for the World

Here you can sign up to contribute to music projects in the world, by busking in the streets between 8 and 14 June and donating your collection to Musequality, an organisation supporting music projects for some of the poorest children in the world.  Seems a very worthwhile cause indeed!

Go for it!


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Letting those artists into the UK

The Observer reports that a number of artists are starting a campaign to fight the visa clampdown by UK authorities, which requires artists from beyond the EU to be fingerprinted, and organisations inviting them to pay £400 or £1000 to become 'an official sponsor'. (UK authorities are always good at charging their citizens....).  The Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov, living in Italy, recently fell victim to this policy, since he did not have time to travel to Rome to be finger-printed.

The UK Border Agency states that 'all migrants, not just artists, seeking to come to the UK to work or study, except for the most highly skilled, will require a certificate of sponsorship'.  

I wonder who decides who is the 'most highly skilled'. Do people have to audition, or in the case of scientists, send a piece of their most recent research? What are the qualifications of those who decide, and how long does it take them to decide?  Imagine if an artists suddenly falls sick, the Royal Opera House searches right round the world to find someone to take the role - do they have to ask if the singer has visa clearance, too?  Would, eg, Anna Netrebko, a Russian, pass this test? (She probably would, I seem to remember she was given Austrian citizenship for her achievements).


Thursday, February 19, 2009

A question of balance

Last night's concert at the Filharmonija was one in a cycle called 'Quartet and Piano', with the State Vilnius String Quartet and the New York-based pianist Andrius Zlabis, playing Shostakovich and Dvorak.

Shostakovich's quintet, op 57, was written in the summer of 1940 - at which time Russia was not at war. I had wondered about the period of its writing, because it seemed quite a subdued piece, apart from the middle movement, with three slow movements and two faster ones.  It has an interesting start, in which the cello plays above all the other instruments. The second movement is described as a fugue, though it seemed more canonical to me. To say that the string quartet played it rather understatedly is a bit of an over-statement.  It was very calm indeed, very very calm - apart from a blistering middle movement. It was so calm that it was often difficult to hear it over the piano. The first violin seemed to have trouble reaching the highest note, missing it every time (out of 3).  There was a moment when I was wondering how this quartet gets to have American tours all the time - though this may be partly due to the Lithuanian diaspora in the US.  But I liked the mournful second movement.

After the interval (I had also moved seats, but surely moving from the side of the small hall to the centre should not make such a difference) the string quartet seemed transformed. It did a lovely performance of the Dvorak op 81 quintet, now clearly audible, with beautiful viola lines. The cello suddenly developed a pulse - almost passion. Nice collaboration with the pianist. This was a very nice performance, though I wondered what the quartet thought about playing Dvorak. It's kind of an intellectual quartet that does not hesitate trying out all sorts of music, and Dvorak is at the edge of populism.  But the bread-and-butter repertoire puts the butter on the bread, I suppose.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia for Violin and Viola


All is forgiven!

A packed Filharmonija tonight, for the concert of the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra under its new artistic director and conductor Sergey Krilov. Even Mr Kevisas, the supremo of all things musical in Lithuania, was there - and the company Lindt was handing out chocolates (why?). No benefit to me, that, I don't like chocolate all that much.

The programming was Mozart, Mendelssohn and Mozart. When I listened to, and watched, the symphony No 15, I thought 'a conductor he ain't'. No sign of a beat. Ok, this Mozart-experienced orchestra does not need a beat, but I wondered how he and they might get on with a contemporary piece with complicated rhythms. I was also a bit puzzled when, before starting, he turned a page or two, as if he were looking at a tricky place, trying to remember it. In conducting Mozart? He just went with the tune....His right hand movements reminded me of my beloved dog Arran who would beg like that with her right front paw. But anyway. In the piece there could have been more contrasts, but it was ok.

This was followed by Mendelssohn's violin concerto. Again, I thought - everyone is playing it. And why does he need sheet music for a piece as well-known as this? Then they started. What was this? Was this Mendelssohn? In fact it was his violin concerto in d-minor, rather than the well-known e-minor concerto. Strange piece, with a very classical first movement (you'd never guess it was Mendelssohn), and rather strange second and third movements - though the third movement had at least a rondo format. Both had extended places of only solo fiddling, and other places where the soloist played like crazy but it could not be heard over the band. It was good to have heard it, but it's clear why it is not often played. Very virtuosic, I think, and well played. I liked the Rondo theme, which was quite hungarian and suitably roughly played.

Finally, yet again Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante. Ah well, it's the first time I've heard it this year (and it's only February!). They played very nicely, though I am not sure if they were entirely in emotional tune with each other, sort of slightly talking past each other; Krilov seemed to have more bite than Naidin, the viola soloist. Beautiful sound of both instruments, and clearly Krilov is a great violinist. They got excellent applause from the hall, and then...

...and then....

they gave an encore, of the Handel-Halvorsen passacaglia, one of my very favourite violin-viola duets (see a very talented but also very funny video above, with Clarence and Oliver playing it). Thank you, thank you, guys. It was just great! Possibly that of Elmar Oliveira and Paul Neubauer at the 2004 viola congress was even more risk-taking, but it was just great to hear the piece. Somehow I managed to start a standing ovation - I was behind and above the orchestra, I stood up and the whole audience shot up; normally it's creeping death from the back of the hall to the front. That was really well deserved.


Sunday, February 08, 2009

Full forces

It seems that the Filharmonija is suffering quite a lot from the economic crisis, see my query here. Speaking to them last night they said that all they were doing now was accountancy work, finding ways of saving money everywhere.

Last night's concert, my first proper concert with the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra featured Povilas Jacunskas (cello) and the Latvian conductor Imants Resnis, together with Prokofiev and Mahler.

Jacunskas (about 25) is the great white hope of Lithuanian cello playing - I remember him from his school days, which was almost yesterday; though he seems to have aged more than the eight years since I first saw him. Last night he played Prokofiev's symphony-concerto in e minor. With gusto! It's probably not fair of me to be listening to Mischa Maisky playing it while I am writing this review.... Jacunskas played beautifully and expertly, getting himself round all those tricky corners with bravura. His intonation suffered at moments, and the lyrical theme in the second movement could have been more lyrical (but so could Maisky's), but otherwise it was all under control. In those pizzing places in the first movement, had his strings been those of a bow and arrows, the arrows would have shot through three fat men standing behind each other. How he managed not to break a string, I'll never know!  The audience was full of his fan club, friends, fellow students, colleagues from his orchestra (all to visibly absent in the second half), and it would have been nice to have had an encore.

In the second half we heard Mahler's first symphony, in the original version - which contains an extra movement. The orchestra must have died when they found that out! I've never heard the orchestra play as quietly as they did at the beginning of the movement - so they can do it! Unfortunately the oboe d'amore sounded rather flat in this rather exposed place which was a bit of a shame. The third (usually second) movement initially seemed to be lacking a bit of Viennese give and take, but then suddenly the conductor threw it in - and it was probably more wonderful for being so unexpected. During the interval I had heard a bassist practice the Frère Jacques theme and wondered 'what's there to practice in that?'. But seeing he played it as a soft solo, clearly there was everything to practice in that. It was a great performance (though afterwards I heard some mutterings from some other people, musicians at that....).


Saturday, February 07, 2009

Orfeo Mark 3

I've reviewed this Vilnius Opera and Ballet theatre performance before (twice), the most relevant review being here. So just a few vignettes/comments.

Poor Amor, who had to do all his singing suspended in the air, at one moment crashed into the set. No harm done, it seemed. But I was confused. Only at the end, though, when the main characters took their bows. The singer for Amor was very tall indeed. 'Tis not unnatural in Lithuania, for men and for women. But, was it a guy or a gal? It seems it was a guy, Victoras Gerasimovas. But the part is a soprano part. It did not sound like a male voice at all, nor did it sound like it was sung at tenor pitch (leaving aside the fact how the poor lad was strung up during his entire singing, but that alone would not a soprano make). Very interesting!

Yaniv D'Or was still rather brighter as Orfeo than he should have been.

The conductor, near the end, walks on the stage and picks up Amor's arrow to conduct the rest of the opera with it. He clearly acted 'conducting' on the way back down, looking very happy. This was quite different from the scowl he shot during the performance at a little group playing on his right during the dance of the furies moment. If looks could have killed.....

Interesting to see what a small band they used. The pit was half empty; it was more a chamber orchestra group. As it probably should be.