Saturday, May 07, 2011

The New Brandenburgs

Tonight was the first concert of Spring for Music, a sort of mini festival in the Carnegie Hall, of, let's say, adventurous planning, with matching cheap ticket prices. I'm not sure how often I can afford to sit in the third row of the 'parteris' as we say in Lithuania. Actually those seats are a little low, and you get a good view of the orchestra's shoes.

Never mind. As a loyal follower of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra I bought my ticket and was there, at least in the first half. Then I had had quite enough of contemporary music (not that I am usually averse to it), and got home, thanks to the new bike, in time to hear the second half on the radio. So I don't need to feel totally guilty.

The hall was quite well sold. I now get the sinking feeling when I go into the hall and see a PA system. But luckily Americans are not too prone to liking to hear themselves talk (at least sometimes), and so the speeches were short, and one of them amusing, at least. This one was by what looked like an elderly actor, who, I am told, was none other than Frasier's younger brother Niles, in a previous life! I should have been gobsmacked!

The concert was of six concertos commissioned by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in memory of the Bach Brandenburg Concertos. So what these concertos had in common with the original Brandenburgs was the instrumentation, more or less, the number of movements, more or less, the length of the concertos (more rather than less), and the occasional, very occasional, quote of Bach. The order of the concertos, using the instrumentation as an indicator, was different from that of the original Brandenburgs. And frankly, Nardo, could you not have told me that the second half was more exciting than the first half?

The first concerto, a la 6th, with no violins and viola soloists, by Aaron Jay Kerns was, frankly, rather soporific, and so I rested my eyes. But as usual in this case, I caught every note. Nice viola playing, for three violas mostly - the fourth one joined in occasionally. Reminds me of the Mozart concerto for three pianos, where the third part is rather less engaged. Nice viola playing, very nice! It was a kind of dialogic piece, with a bit of melody or whatever played by the violas, and chucked over to the cellos, who replied.

The second piece, inspired by No 4, was for two flutes and a violin. Hate to say that, but the flutes had difficulties cutting through. Perhaps it where I was sitting, and the flutes hiding behind their music stands. It was quite a nice piece, though, with some awesome violin playing, and it did contain a couple of Bach quotes.

The third piece, for flute, violin and piano, was Maxwell Davies' (him of Orkney) Sea Orpheus - oh, the link to the orchestra, the sea surrounding his living place.....It was for piano, violin and flute, a la No 5. The pianist, Christopher Taylor did his best to be the conductor, giving entries to all and sundry, including the other two soloists with their backs to him. It was quite nice, not sure about how sea-y it was. Also in the usual Bach format, in terms of movements, though the piano had a bigger solo in the first movement than in the second, unlike, I think, but don't quote me on it, the Bach 5th.

Then I left, was quite contemporary musicked-out. Got home, and found myself still in the interval (it was being broadcast 'live', with a half-hour delay), and heard the last three concertos - which were much exciting, as evidenced also by the cheers from the audience. Christopher Theofanidis' piece 'Muse' was rather Philip Glass-y, and sounded exciting. Stephen Haartke's 'A Brandenburg Autumn was apparently inspired by him being in the Berlin region, including Brandenburg' (the region) itself. He had recently added a fourth movement, unlike Bach. Also exiting (probably more so than the region...apart from Berlin itself, though there was word that the chipping of the wall was also included), as was finally Paul Moravec's 'Brandenburg Gate'. But I have to admit that at home concentration was not as good as it should have been, what with doing one thing or another at the same time.

So, the concert was good for education, and probably, had I stayed for the second half, I might have joined that excitement. Oh well....