Monday, April 27, 2009


...and intensely irritating!  Algirdas Vizgirda, that is, the ego-trip that runs and conducts the chamber group Muzika Humana.  The benefit of the doubt has had to be invoked a couple of times in the writing of this review. Like, presumably he had to play his own solo at the beginning of the concert because that is more nerve-wracking, so he wanted to get it over with. Like, he played the upper part (ie first flute) in a Loeillet sonata, with his French guest Philippe Bernold, for two flutes because his flute lacked a b-foot. I think. Would not have thought that in the baroque era flutes were so sophisticated that they might have had b-feet, but what do I know. It felt rather rude to the visitor..... But was it really necessary to give an encore at the end of the first half, when there had only been two curtain calls? Might never have made it to the third.

So it was a concert of French music from baroque to Honegger (who was Swiss but spent much of his life in France).

The Loeillet sonata was all right; seemed definitely like first flute and second (accompaniment, there did not seem to be that much exchange and interaction between the two. A standard baroque piece with standard movements. Bernold is a very elegant, stylish player (he's French, you would not expect anything less).   The last movement was rather breathtakingly fast, but it was a gigue, and again that's quite to be expected.

This was followed by Rameau's suite 'Les Fêtes d'Hébé' whoever or whatever Hébé might be. It was nice, though I wondered what at the time had been the difference between folk and non-folk music. A series of dances, the way they composed at the time. I thought the violins played too 'goody-goody', with long bows, whereas the cellist got the tone much more right - there was some lovely debate between the upper strings and the cello (he really is a good man, a stalwart of the band).  There was a new oboist in the band, who played very nicely, too.

The first half ended with Leclair's C major concerto for oboe and orchestra, with the other stalwart, Robertas Beinaris, as the soloist. Young Robertas is showing no signs of fading away, on the contrary. As usual his performance was high-class, and the piece was interesting. But it really was not necessary to give an encore of the second movement!

I left after that; not much into later French music....


Socialising in Vilnius

I thought it was time to do some socialising, and get out of the house. So on Saturday night I decided to go clubbing - a first for me, to go on my own (though people always used to ask me 'who do you go to the Filharmonija with?').

Looked around websites and went to the 'L'amour' club, underneath the Siuolaikinis Menos Centras. It was supposed to be a good place.... Arrived just before 10 pm (entry fees payable after 10), and found in it a birthday party and two elderly couples who left shortly afterwards (when one of the guys went to the loo, my immediate thought was 'prostrate trouble'...).  There was also a group of 3 girls.

So there I was, on my own, nursing a beer until 11 pm. By which time the couples had left, the birthday party had gone behind a curtain, a group of 5 lads had arrived as well as a youngish couple, who danced on their own. Dead? Like a dodo....

Went to look for somewhere else to go. Passed the waterworld strip club. The heavy at the door lounged towards me and told me all about the beautiful ladies inside. I was mildly tempted, but did not go in. He would not let me go without pressing the club's business card in my hand, for next time!

Finally holed up at the Savas Kampas, a pub in Vokieciu which is busy every time I pass it. And it was, too....had another beer (or two) at the bar. A Scottish guy bought some drinks, said he was from Glasgow, as in 'Glasgow Rangers'. Boy, you have no idea how much information you gave me with those two words!

The next day I asked someone about more recommendable clubs; sadly, the only one he could come up with was Brodvejus (Broadway). Bit of a shame that it had a major fire a month or two ago and is closed for repair.....


Friday, April 24, 2009

Rococo Variations for .... Viola...

Summer must be coming on....last Saturday the Filharmonija was half-empty; usually a clear indicator for warmer weather.  (Yes, I know this review is very very late, but folks, I was a bit busy!). Tomorrow there is nothing special, some chamber music concert - Capital of Culture - oh, the shame!

It was a mixture of Lithuanian, Russian and French music, conducted by the delectable Modestas Pitrenas. I have to say he has to loosen up; he still sticks to the script far too faithfully, like a conscientious little boy - but he could let fly. But then this reviewer saw Mikkel Futtrup last night, and that may now forever colour his views.

The first piece, a Dramatic overture by Julius Gaidelis (who he? A Lithuanian composer who was born 100 years ago), was ok; very standard stuff for the heady days of 1966 when it was written (but then, 1968 had not yet happened, the guy was almost sixty, and 1968 in the Paris meaning was a world away; here it was probably more like the Czech meaning).  Nothing much to set the heather alight; usual structure, fast(ish), slow, fast, with the trumpet theme at the beginning being really quite rough.

This was followed by the Ukrainian VIOLA player Maksim Rysanov playing his transcription of the Tchaikovsky 'Rococo Variations'.  The transcription worked actually very well - and came across well on his very dark viola (think foghorn). At the beginning I was not sure - the opening was a bit too light, with not enough commitment, I thought, but the last movement was stunning - totally virtuosic, with astonishing technique. Clearly he can play anything, and he is a solid East European performer. Alas, the Bach encore was also virtuosic - which a simple dance by Bach does not really require; it was too fast and the phrases were not recognizable. Shame, really. He'll just need to stick to the virtuosic repertoire, which on this showing he does wonderfully.

The second half, with Debussy's Iberia, was ok. I am not sure who had not got the Spanish thing about this music - was it Debussy or the conductor? It sounded very straight; every note in the right place, but lacked spirit.  The 'Sorcerer's Apprentice' was fuller of wow, and a good piece to end the concert on. Overall, though, apart from the Tchaikovsky, it was rather a straight and restrained concert.  'Tried hard', as people might say in school reports.


Extremist Mozart

I don't think I have ever been in a classical concert where the audience clapped along to the performers - but it happened last night in Vilnius!

It was an astonishing concert! Mikkel Futtrup, the Danish violinist, directed the St Christopher Chamber Orchestra in a concert of Mozart violin concertos (don't ask me which ones, I did not have a programme).  At one stage I thought they had played that rondo for violin and orchestra, because the audience applauded after one movement. But that was the pattern for the whole evening; applause every time he put the bow down. He encouraged it, and why not - if it takes such playing to get people into classical concerts (it was full of young people, standing room only), why not?

The performance was amazing. Futtrup played almost all the time; did not wait for the orchestra to play its introduction but played along with it the way the baroque concertos work. But what energy, what vitality! And what an interpretation!  Very idiosyncratic, not always sticking to Mozart's notes (he giggled audibly when one moment a passage's intonation fell victim to exuberance) or indeed to his rhythms, rubatoing all over the place, keeping the tension high all the time, and having a ball! As was the orchestra who were smiling all the time (quite apart from the audience!).  In the last concerto's middle movement it seemed he was flagging a bit, but the last movement's 'Don Giovanni' part was awesome.

It was a brilliant concert, and no-one who was there will ever listen to Mozart concertos played nicely in quite the same way. Here's a real personality who you might actually recognize in a recording; a rarity nowadays. I wondered how he might be on stage together with the almost as exuberant Daniel Hope; but there are few concertos written for two violins, apart from baroque concertos.

His encore was some well-known 'Gypsy' music, played among others, by a 'drunken man' - brilliant, brilliant stuff it was.  Look out for this performer!

And to think that I might not have gone (felt a bit lazy....)


Thursday, April 16, 2009

An Indian fairytale

After getting two comments on 'Slumdog Millionaire', one ok, one devastating (too much violence), of course I had to go and see for myself.  I liked it!

So the story, as everyone knows, is about a young man who wins the Indian version of 'who wants to be a millionaire'. It's interesting because each question triggers some memory from his life, thus spinning together his biography. It might have been better not to run this link consecutively - that's a bit too much of a coincidence, but it's interesting, not least psychoanalytically.

Have to say that the bits about the violence, intercommunal, sexual, against children, what happens to that poor child in the orphanage, almost has documentary character in terms of what happens to poor children in India. Anyone who has read Rohinton Mistry's 'A fine balance' knows that. In addition I have spent the last fortnight assessing bids for donor funding for projects to reduce violence against children, worldwide, and some Indian bids were among them. Yes, the violence is awful, but it's what many poor children in India experience every day of their lives (and not only in India). And then there's the corruption....
The child actors were gorgeous, as were the others. Also enjoyed the bit of pure Bollywood at the end; I had expected more of that, but those mass dances tend to go more with festivities (from what little I know about Bollywood films), of which there were few, if any, in the film.

It was a bit funny having the Hindi (?) words subtitled into Lithuanian. Interesting that the word for 'I' - 'me' is the same word as in Georgian. Also liked the little Indianisms, 'computerji'.

I can see why it won those Oscars, what with the story line (a political win perhaps), the lovely children....