Saturday, May 14, 2011

Overdose of Energy!

'tis still the 'Spring for Music' Festival season at Carnegie Hall (I would prefer to write 'at the Carnegie Hall' but was taken to task by a faithful reader who said in NY they say 'at Carnegie Hall', like 'at church', or 'at school', I suppose. Interesting, and I wonder if it is just musicians who use the latter phrasings, or everyone). (Picture courtesy of NY Times)

It was only this week that I discovered how Carnegie Hall 'works', if I understood it correctly. Apparently it is totally run like a business. Whereas in Europe, especially Germany and I suspect Eastern European countries, concert halls employ orchestras or engage them (ie pay them) to perform there, here orchestras rent the hall, and have to cover their own expenses. And they then get some of the ticket income to compensate (I suppose the other part of the ticket income goes towards the hall rental, but they still have to cover travel and accommodation). So it's not surprising that some American Orchestras, like the Portland from Oregon (established in the 19th century) and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra this week had their Carnegie Hall debut. Dallas managed to raise 250,000 towards the cost; don't know the figure for Oregon. Anyway, it's an expensive business. But on the other hand, if you, dear Reader, feel you want to have your Carnegie Hall debut, just find a kind sponsor to pay for it. I wonder if this affects the programming choices - it does, at times, seem a bit staid to me. Not only that, but also the orchestras and concert halls support the public radio when in other countries I think the radio pays for transmissions of events not of its own organising. Oh, it's a sad state of affairs.

This all reminded me of that opera company, complete with singers, chorus, orchestra, staging. from somewhere deep in the former Soviet Union, North Ossetia (Gergiev comes from South Ossetia), which trundled all the way to Edinburgh to perform in the Fringe Festival (which is more business like than the International Festival). No doubt her CV will now say that she and her band performed at the Edinburgh festival, which is, strictly speaking, true - but it was not the International Edinburgh Festival, even though both run at the same time, together with others...I think the main soprano's dad paid for it. Here's that story,...and her name is 'Viola'. I wonder if someone has told him about Carnegie Hall? She could do an evening of operatic arias...

Anyway, I digress. Last night it was the turn of the fabulous St Paul Chamber Orchestra, from St Paul, which is one of the Twin cities - the other one is Minneapolis (where the 2004 International Viola Congress took place). The tickets were relatively cheap, and the hall was about 60% full, including some of their supporters who had travelled all the way from St Paul. I hadn't heard the band before, but I had certainly heard of them. Like the Orpheus CO they play usually without a conductor, but there is very strong leadership from the first fiddler (I am in no way implying that there is no leadership in the Orpheus, dear Reader!).

As in all Spring for Music concerts, the programming was interesting. (I must admit to not caring a great deal for Andrew Previn/Tom Stoppards 'Every Good Boy Deserves Favour', on another day, which I heard on the radio, about a mental hospital in the Soviet Union; it was quite funny and all that, but is really rather dated now). Last night's concert was fun, and interesting.

First the highly energised team played Stravinsky's Concerto in D for String Orchestra - with all performers standing (obviously apart from the celli). It had some lovely viola parts, was brisk, percussive (written in 1946) and a lot of fun. This was followed by Maria Schneider's (gee, she is about 5 years younger than me, she looked about 30) Carlos Drummond de Andrade Stories for soprano and chamber orchestra, with the soprano being the awesome Dawn Upshaw (sometimes it's hard to write reviews in NY when you have such stellar performers). Maria Schneider usually writes Jazz and Big Band, so this was quite a departure for her. CD de A was a Brazilian poet, and the Brazilian music shone through nicely; it was very pleasant music, reminding me a bit of the Songs of the Auvergne. The only problem was that the orchestral accompaniment was quite loud, most of the time, I was sitting effectively above the stage entrance, sort of behind Ms Upshaw's right shoulder, so it was quite difficult for me to hear her over the orchestra.

Luckily she had a second piece, with string orchestra, of Bartok's Five Hungarian Folk Songs, arranged by Richard Tognetti. I assume it may have been a piano accompaniment once? Sometimes it seemed a bit of a challenge to keep all the strings busy. But hey, this was so funky! Ms Upshaw sang in Hungarian (from memory), and she was having so much fun - as did the audience. Inevitably it was a mix of happy and sad songs - I knew some of them, whether from spending some time in a Hungarian village or from hearing them elsewhere, I don't know.

And finally Haydn's 104 symphony (one of the 12 London symphonies). A lovely, highly energetic performance, with a wonderful percussionist who was a pleasure to watch (not quite up to 'our' Povilas Giunteris, but then few percussionists have that personality). It had some lovely touches in the minuet and trio, with dynamics which might not have been written in the original score (but what do I know about the score of this piece). I was wondering if Haydn's band at Esterhazy, in that presumably cold castle, would have been so energetic.