Saturday, April 23, 2011

Loud and Very Long!

So I had bought a ticket to the American Symphony Orchestra yesterday, in the Carnegie Hall. Since the tickets are relatively cheap at 25 dollars (plus booking fee) I had not looked at what they are playing (A friend normally plays in the band but was sick yesterday).

The programme was Paul Dessau's 'Passover in Exile', a monumental work, well-timed to fit the season, with a huge orchestra, two choirs, 14 adult and 3 child soloists (Dessau used to work in Hollywood where maybe he worked with huge forces; he clearly had not read Bach's correspondence, pleading for being allowed more than about 12 singers (I think) in his choirs).

My seat was in the box right over the percussion and the brass, a move I soon regretted - the piece was LOUD! Essentially it's the story of the Jews fleeing Egypt, so in terms of action and aggression it had much in common with Bach's Passions. It was sung in Hebrew, I think - certainly the transliterated words in the programme did not look Russian, as a guy beside me told his accompanying female. Must have been quite something for the singers to get their tongues round.

Interestingly the hall, which was almost sold out according to the Carnegie hall website, was only about 80% full, and nearer 60% full by the time the second half started. During the interval I went outside, and was nearly knocked down by people rushing away - far away. A trickle kept trickling out during the long second half of the concert, too. Hard when you have to manoeuver a walking aid with wheels, but people managed, fairly gracefully. I expected the audience to be more Jewish than normal, but generally it did not seem to be - the more visible Orthodox Jews seemed to prefer besporting themselves on Roosevelt Island that afternoon - the tram over had been packed by families in their finery, with hugely excited children. Maybe going to concerts is not something Orthodox Jews do?

Sooooo, it was very long - pages and pages of text, and near the end I kept praying that I would see the basses turn to the last page - which eventually came. Somewhere in the second half there was rather a nice children's song, or so it seemed - but it seemed to have endless verses. Generally three verses are quite enough of anything! Most of the time the piece was very very loud, with lots of brass, percussion, two pianos on the other side of the stage, a harp, every possible bit of force the composer could muster. Except the shofar - I would have expected that in it as well. What did it cost to put this show on?

I wondered whether the composer had ever written 'p' as in 'piano' in the score. Maybe 5 times it was a bit quieter, for a very short while, but generally it was 'fff' throughout. The soloists were fine; the opening bass particularly good. The Brooklyn Youth Chorus' conductor annoyed me, though. She sang along with the choir (female voices only, including 5 boys), and rather dramatically stage managed the choir with huge waves of her arm each time they had to stand up or sit down. Surely she could have led them by example, just sitting down or standing up? They all looked like pretty good girls....

I like it when I go to concerts and get something unexpected, which is why I buy tickets sometimes without looking what is on. This was a learning experience! At the same time I think I am done with this piece - would be happy to hear Bach's Passions ad nauseam, or rather ad never nauseam; this piece I can give a miss.