Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Klezmer for two

BBC Symphony Orchestra violinists Celia Waterhouse and Danny Meyer visited the class last week to play and chat (I missed my chance to snap them before the instruments returned to their cases, so they obliged by getting colleague Anna Smith to take a fine double portrait in Maida Vale the following day). The outer panels of their triptych tied in with last Saturday's Mahler Resurrection and this coming Friday's Berio. Either side of very pretty 1791 variations on 'Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja' and 'Bei Männern' from Mozart's Magic Flute, they played a selection of Berio's elliptical, effect-full and melodically striking duos and three klezmer pieces (to tie in with that passage in the ever-amazing slow movement of Mahler's First Symphony, which they also demonstrated).

The klezmer arrangements were by a name I blush to say I hadn't heard before, Aleksey Igudesman. His 7/8 version of  'Hava Nagila' makes it sound absolutely fresh; there was a lively wedding number with an out-of-kilter rondo refrain, and a well-tempered meeting of Valkyries and bridesmaids in 'Richard wouldn't like it'.

The Petersburg (Leningrad) born violinist/arranger is well known - though less so in the UK, it seems - as part of a musical comedy duo, Igudesman and Joo (who is as brilliant a pianist as AI is a violinist). Now I don't usually warm to such stuff, despite - or more likely because of - being dragged along to Victor Borge concerts at a young age. Danny told me to go home and look up on YouTube  'Rachmaninov had big hands', which involves Igudesman handing Joo various notched wedges of wood to add a plethora of notes to the C sharp minor Prelude. A clip which gives a better example of both their skills submits Mozart's Rondo alla Turca to orientalisation. Do stick with this longish strand for the klezmer/eastern effect on an old favourite.

There's plenty more worth watching where that came from (try the collaboration with Kremer and Co in 'I will survive'). Anyway, we learnt a lot from Celia and Danny in the conversation which followed their playing. Danny's role as union representative and his knowledge of the politicking reassured us, among other things, that the BBC orchestras will be taking a ten rather than 20 per cent cut; had it been the latter, one of them might not have survived. But a couple of other institutions may not be with us for much longer; it would be presumptuous to name them.

Danny was interesting on one crucial  difference between two visiting conductors. The first, who shall also remain nameless though named he was and Danny made clear he certainly respects him, comes to rehearsals with everything already planned out for his interpretation. The other, Haitink, gets the orchestra to play through the work(s) in question, listens to their sound and adapts, which surely gets more inspiring results.

We also talked about contemporary pieces which get the violin to do everything under the sun except play what (perhaps narrowly) we think of as 'violinistically', in other words to make a phrase with the bow on the string. That was very much the impression in two out of the four new (or newish) pieces in the Mercury Quartet's 'Inspired by Debussy' concert at King's Place last Monday. I went with the diplo-mate, who had co-ordinated the event and supported the commissions via EUNIC. The two pieces in question were a short bit of mood-music which might as well have been an improvisation by a Polish composer and a more dynamic journey in Cypriot Evis Sammoutis's Metioron, which started randomly but gradually coalesced into a piano-led scherzo and haunting final slow section.

The real excitement was seeing the youthful commitment the Mercuries (pictured above, and led by Romanian violinist Vlad Maistorovici, who I'm told is a rather brilliant composer in his own right) brought to their contributions. There was also a trio-Nocturne for flute (Ana de la Vega), harp (Claire Iselin) and voice (soprano Patricia Rozario, who had learnt her parts at 24 hours' notice, and seemed totally in command) by Estonian Malle Maltis - pure Debussy pastiche, but superior of its kind; and a short assemblage of fragments, including the only direct reference to Debussy in a descending phrase from Nuages, by Thomas Oehler. The Debussy works we heard were a surprisingly blowsy early song, Flots, palmes, sables, with a strange, rather redundant meeting of piano and harp, and the chimerical Cello Sonata, in which pianist Antoine Francoise especially excelled. An uneven programme, then, but what vivacious guides we had in the performers.


Laurent said...

Yes cuts in cultural institutions is very hard to digest. At the National Gallery in Ottawa, without volunteers the museum would have to shut down, the budget is that tight. I learned also that the art classes for the public where people came to paint and get tutorials have been cancelled. We still manage to expand the sculpture park but only because the art work is donated to the museum and not bought. I can just imagine the PR required to keep donors interested. Liked the YouTube presentation very entertaining.

David said...

It looks like our regions will be hardest hit, with councils like Newcastle slashing budgets which will decimate what in Newcastle's case is a thriving arts scene.

We've also had Nick Hytner and other theatrical worthies thrashing it out with the latest not-interested-in culture secretary, Maria Miller. She dismisses out of hand their objection that regional theatres will close by the dozen, indeed are already doing so. But of course times are even worse for welfare. Yes, we're all in a bad way, but I fear this is the most spineless and damaging government we've had.

Susan Scheid said...

The thought of “being dragged along to Victor Borge concerts at a young age” is fairly frightening. Are you scarred for life? (In our house, it was a Phyllis Diller live comedy show that almost did me in . . . .) But I did listen to the clip, and they were definitely entertaining. A favorite line: “the feng shui here is in A Majeure.” And of course this is the line of yours that resonated with me most of all: “The real excitement was seeing the youthful commitment the Mercuries . . . brought to their contributions.” (Which is what makes it all the more sorrowful to contemplate cuts to cultural institutions. Without them—and without the nurturing of the youthful commitment you cite here—life is impoverished beyond words.)

David Damant said...

The most damaging government was that of Blair - overspending and ruining the economy, assisted by a profligate expansion of the money supply, and with everyone ( banks especially) encouraged to take unwise risks by one of the most foolish and vain comments ever made by a chancellor "I have abolished boom and bust". And now it is very difficult to see how to correct things

It is interesting to hear from Laurent that there are cuts in Canada also, even though Canada avoided a good deal of the financial crisis

David said...

Sue - I thought of you and Contemporaneous when I wrote that. I think I'd gladly follow recent developments on a regular basis if I had inspiring young musicians to lead me by the hand. I was so pleased that in the face of all the recent cuts, as a kind of yaa-boo, the Queen's Medal for Music at a half-great concert on Wednesday went to our heroic National Youth Orchestra.

David - worth remembering that Gordon Brown, for all his manifold faults, did save the country from total meltdown in the banking crisis.

Canada, of course, has a hideous anti-environmental, anti-culture government, I'm sure you know.

David Damant said...

The saving was done by Alistair Darling ( several Civil Servants thought him "sensible" - as opposed to their view of most politicians I suppose)and anyway under the leadership of the Americans....the ( newish) chair of the Federal Reserve Bernanke had earlier written a book on the 1929 crash and saw the effects then of higher interest rates, the stopping of spending etc - and did the opposite, which appears to have worked, though leaving problems of course