Stephen Hough – Musica Viva

On Saturday night, D and I went to see Stephen Hough play a recital at Angel Place, Sydney, for Musica Viva.  The program was:

MENDELSSOHN Variations sérieuses, Op. 54
EDWARDS Kumari
BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No.32 in C minor, Op. 111
von WEBER Invitation to the Dance in D flat major
CHOPIN Waltz in C sharp minor, Op. 64 No.2
Valse Brilliante in A flat major, Op. 34 No.1
SAINT-SAËNS Valse nonchalante in D flat major, Op. 110
CHABRIER Feuillet d’album from Five posthumous pieces
DEBUSSY La plus que lente
LISZT Valse Oubliée No.1
First Mephisto Waltz (Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke), S 514

There were also 3 encores, including, as predicted, what I take to be Hough’s own slow-waltz arrangement of Waltzing Matilda which we heard in Tasmania.

I don’t usually go to Musica Viva concerts. As a result it is a bit hard for me to determine to what extent the audience was a regular MV audience, and to what extent it was particular to this concert. There are reasons to suppose it might have been different from the regular audience, because Musica Viva does not, as a rule, present solo pianists in its big-city recital series. I also wondered whether the muted publicity, including references to Hough’s Ian McKellen-like coming out (and the consequential cancellation of a tour to Vietnam) might have brought a higher than normal gay crowd. And I did notice quite a few gay men (so far as one can judge, although in some cases, they were known to me) in the audience. Former NSW Treasurer, Michael Egan was there with someone who gave every appearance of being his boyfriend, in the company of Kim Williams (who many years ago was GM of MV himself). Egan’s status in this regard has long been regarded as “openly secret.” I don’t have any views to convey one way or another about Mr Williams.

Incidentally, this raises a little question. One of the Sydney gay papers has been running a kind of quest to identify the top 25 “power gays” in Australia. I’m not quite sure what the point of this exercise is, but unless some systematic “outing” is proposed, this exercise seems bound to miss its mark. Power and being openly gay are still largely mutually exclusive in our society. Let’s face it, if you can’t even play the piano in Vietnam if you are openly gay, then your chances of actually wielding power are correspondingly fairly slim. Sigh.

Before the recital began, the house lights went down, and Mary Jo Capps, the general manager of Musica Viva, walked up to the stage. Once again, I don’t know if this is typical, though it has happened at a concert I attended once in the past. She was there to spruik next year’s subscription season.

I hate such speechifying at concerts. It is always too loud, and so dwarfs the acoustical scale of the ensuing concert. It banally cuts into the atmosphere of quiet expectation and, yes, spiritual preparation (at least on my part) which precedes the music. But this time, there was something worse. Ms Capps told us that Carl Vine, the artistic director, would now tell us something about next year’s season.

But Mr Vine did not join Ms Capps on the stage. Instead, all the lights went out and we suddenly became aware that above the stage was an unfurled screen onto which a likeness of him was projected. The volume grew even louder, as we were treated to a series of mini-video clips of the various artists playing various bleeding chunks of music.

I put my head on my hands and shut my eyes. It was really unbearable, though somehow less unbearable this way, even though I could still hear it, loud (very loud) and not particularly clear.

I go to a concert to hear the music. It is bad enough at the Opera House these days when after the concert you have to run the gauntlet of amplified music from the Opera Bar. Imagine going to a restaurant and having a fine meal, but being forced, say, to scoff a Big Mac at the end. This was worse, because we were trapped. I regard it as an imposition. I don’t go to a live concert to watch a music clip, or to be exposed to even the concert organisation’s marketing. To make things worse, I am sure that there was a lingering loudspeaker hiss for the entirety of the first half of the program.

We sat upstairs on the non-keyboard side. I have never sat there before. My impression was that this spot received buckets of sound from the guts of the piano (we were looking down onto the strings) but the balance was unfavourable to the high treble. Once again, this is conjectural, since to be sure of this I would have had to attend the same recital in a different spot, or at least changed seats at interval, which I didn’t do.

I enjoyed the concert. I was too shy (and in too much of a hurry) to get Mr Hough’s autograph afterwards, but I did note a fairish queue of singlish-looking gents lining up.

3 Responses to “Stephen Hough – Musica Viva”

  1. Brentano Quartet « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] In fact, I was given this evenings tickets by Mary Jo Capps, the general manager of MV after I complained (reasonably politely) about the intrusive video promo for next year’s season at the Stephen Hough recital which I wrote about previously. […]

  2. The Long Boom comes to an end « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] cunning: having accepted a free ticket from her last year after complaining to her about the heavy-handed promotion of this -year’s Musica Viva series, I felt somehow obliged to take things further.  Anyway, […]

  3. Emmanuel Ax - Schubert, Liszt, and some Chopin « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] chords which are interpolated near the end of the Mephisto Waltz. Stephen Hough’s performance last year was more dramatic and more […]

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