Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The North Ossetian, the red-eared orchestra, and the wonderful tuba

It occurred to me, during the interminable announcement before the London Symphony Orchestra's concert in Vilnius tonight (opening the Vilnius Festival), to wonder what a North Ossetian was doing in Lithuania, which so much loves Georgia (and vice versa).  Said North Ossetian, Valerij Gergiev (stress on the 'i', apparently) was the only international conductor to launch a concert in Tskhinvali, a month after much of it was laid to waste by Georgia.

That was that story. The red-eared orchestra? A number of ears sported red ear protectors, as probably they all should, especially when sitting in front of the brass, who had been moved around to the side of the opera theatre to improve the acoustics.  Do they need to be red? One of the second violinists had been wearing one, on the brass side, but still, his face was tripping him up for England at the end of the concert.

So the programme included the world premiere of Rodion Shchedrin's 'Lithuania saga', partly in memory of the battle of Gruenberg 600 years ago, whatever that was and whatever it was for. I'm not into history.  Before the concert, the audience's attention had been drawn to Mr Shchedrin, and his wife, the delightful assoluta Maya Pliseckaja, who, aged just over 80 or so, did the ballerina's bowing thing with her arms.  The piece...well, it kind of was. It did not seem to tell much of a story and in particular it was not going anywhere. Suddenly it stopped. Hmmm. Maybe so did the battle? Would hardly be celebrated in that case.

Then there was Stravinsky's symphony in three parts; typical rhythmic Stravinsky. I thought the orchestra was a bit tired (and it seems they have had daily concerts, with travel in between, for a week, so they probably really were tired).  There was no fire, no zing. For that to pay 50 LT for a standing ticket, during which time I could contemplate the distribution of shoe polish in the orchestra; clearly it had not reached the last row of the second violins....Perhaps my position in the hall did not help?

Anyway, stayed for the second half - it was Rakhmaninov's Slavonic Dances. There was a lovely viola solo, and some nice cello playing. It had a bit more zing.  By this time I had a seat, and could observer Gergiev's weird conducting style.  He does do a beat when needed (eg in the Stravinsky, and the way he was peering at the Shchedrin I thought it was not exactly under his skin), but otherwise his hand is like a skater doing his turns.

The orchestra finally came to life with the Montagues and the Capulets, in the first of two encores. There was some awesome pianissimo playing in the strings, stunning brass (especially the tuba, which had a brilliant sound), and some real energy (even though presumably the orchestra plays this a lot). Similarly the piece from the Love of 3 Oranges was very nice indeed. Shame they could not give it laldy in the first half.