Archive for April, 2016
A bit over a week ago to the SOH for Christoph von D’s second concert with the SSO.
You can tell his visit has got the orchestra excited because the box office was crowded with orchestra members picking up tickets for their friends or (if off duty) themselves.
First was Lutosławski’s Musique funebre in memoriam for Bela Bartok. I’m afraid I have a bit of a resistance to string orchestra pieces, but even I finally was drawn in by the wall-of-string-sound shriek of the climactic Apogee movement – which reminded me of Penderecki’s (rather opportunistically-titled) Threnody for the victims of Hiroshima of about the same time.
Second up was Alban Berg’s Seven Early Songs. The concert was billed as Swedish soprano Camilla Tilling’s Australian debut, which can’t be quite correct (she’s been in Melbourne twice before). She is an engaging singer though for me the fascination was more in the orchestral details. This is an early work by Berg, more a summation of his precursors (and in the case of his teacher, Schoenberg, of Schoenberg’s own summatory style) than in his mature style, and as with many ‘prentice works, Berg really threw the kitchen sink at the orchestration. I hope to listen again to it assuming it will be streamed on the web (until about 21 May it should be here).
I did catch just now the balance of the concert as broadcast on ABC “Classic” FM, being the Brahms Second Symphony. It stood up well to my recollection of the concert, without quite making as strong an impact as the Bruckner.
The experiment with the new seating was continued. To my regret, the horns were brought in from the back corner to the middle of the orchestra and the woodwinds consequently relegated back down to their customary height. I should have known that the flutes’ liberating elevation was too good to last.
Last night to see the SSO conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi, making at the age of 86 what was rather cutely described as his “Australian debut.”
I suppose the title of this post is a bit unfair to Carolin Widmann, the violin soloist in the Berg concerto and herself a member of a prominent musical family (you could think of her and her brother as like Australia’s Dean brothers in reverse), but we haven’t had to wait so long to see her.
Once again, the concerto crept up on me unaware (that’s me unaware rather than the concerto), owing in part to a sudden and sad trip to Canberra this week.
The concerto is a kind of musical riddle which works itself out at the end when Bach’s chorale Es ist genug emerges and joins with the Ländler-ish Carinthian song which is its other not-s0-twelve-tonish ingredient.
After the final chords, gleaming like the notes of a glass harmonica, I was moved to tears. I just wanted to hear it all again.
After interval, the Bruckner 4. Dohnanyi conducted this without a score.
The concert was marked by what Peter McCallum neatly described in his review as “the trial of circular tiered platforms which created clarity, acoustic focus, immediacy and tangible acoustic improvement.”
We will have to wait until a less extraordinary conductor is in front of the orchestra before we can see how much of this was down to the platforms and how much of it was down to Dohnanyi and the orchestra rising to meet him. It’s a mystery how this configuration would cope if, for example, there were a piano soloist or a larger orchestra with orchestral piano and celeste, but it is a very promising development which I wouldn’t wish abandoned on that count. Undeniably there was an improved acoustic focus and it was probably even more marked in the middle third of the stalls (where McCallum sits) than in the back quarter where I sit.
Pizzicato bass sounds had a wonderful warmth and the detail of wind playing came through more clearly than usual. I especially enjoyed the playing of guest principal clarinet, Dean Newcomb, from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, and the flutes came through much more clearly than usually. The violas in the second movement played/sounded as well if not better than I have ever heard them. Their back desks are usually a bit of an orchestral backwater and it was fun to see them lifted into the limelight.
It goes without saying that the brass had a good night. (OK: almost without saying, because it was Bruckner.) I particularly liked how Dohnanyi kept them in check with a solid rather than a brash sound – when the trumpets were unleashed (even then bright rather than simply loud) in the Scherzo they really knocked me back in my seat.
Of course a performance is more than the sum of such parts and when we come to balance and interpretation the fanciest set of tiers in the world are not what really does the job.
At the risk of simplifying, I sensed more of the Schubert side of Bruckner than the Wagner side (and, incidentally, quite a lot of Mahler in the first three sections of the Berg).
I listened again today. The Berg improved on greater familiarity (and a bit of help for me from Wikipedia). I’m the sort of person who likes to leaf ahead to see the ending of a novel in advance and so the riddle was more pleasurable when I already knew the answer. The Bruckner survived very well the inevitable scrutiny that a recorded performance permits. An example of the violas in fine form is at 1:19:38.
Gone, obviously, since why else would I be asking?
To the SOH on Saturday to hear the SSO. More of that, possibly, later.
I neglected to mention that on my last trip to the opera, a bar code on my ticket was electronically scanned. I don’t like it. It is Orwellian, uncivil and vulgar. Now the regime of scanning tickets with hand-held devices has spread to the Concert Hall.
It’s all been downhill at the Opera House since 2003 and the “No War” protest. Elaborate fences went up to prevent a repetition. Along the way, the cheerful pleasure of sliding down the angled panels has been proscribed. More tiresomely, the agreeable possibility when at the Concert Hall of checking out the show next door from the foyer monitors is no more. No longer can one approach either of the two main halls by their front entrances from the upper level of the podium. So much for the Aztec temple conceit.
Past the scanners and up the stairs I discovered the catering concession for the foyers has changed hands. It’s a bit of a wrench – if only because at a stroke I have lost my status as known customer, acquired over many years. Had I known the old management were leaving, I would certainly have said goodbye and thank-you.
With a new concessionaire come new staff. I suppose it is just bad luck for the old ones, some of whom have been there for years. That’s the human cost of “disruption” (as the buzz word now is).
Another human cost for me is that the new management obviously has a different taste in bar staff.
And a different taste in sandwiches.
These have undergone some changes over the years, but the basic pattern – vegetarian or not, and if not, ham and cheese, beef, chicken and smoked salmon – seemed almost timeless, until it wasn’t.
Had I known these were going off the menu I would also have eaten my last set of (non-vegetarian) sandwiches with more ceremony.