Saturday 9 August 2014

A Babel of hope and possibility

The phrase is not mine but my bright young colleague Alexandra Coghlan's on The Arts Desk, penned about Berio's Sinfonia, which preceded a shattering but nuanced interpretation of Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony at Tuesday night's Prom. I choose to apply it to the superlative team which gave one of the best Proms I've ever heard, our already-beloved European Union Youth Orchestra, and further, to the even younger members of nine British youth orchestras they mentored in an inspiring workshop featuring 180 young musicians on the platform of the Royal Albert Hall the morning after the EUYO triumph.

All photos here by the wonderful Chris Christodoulou, with whom I managed to have a good chat as the players lined up on the steps in front of the hall's south side. Above, below and in the last photo are some of them on Wednesday morning conducted by likeable young motivator Duncan Ward and playing to a small audience of friends, family and a handful of scribblers like me.

A big question which I intend to peck away at: why did the BBC not ask Chris to snap one of their most photo-friendly evenings? He tends to come to everything he can, but the press folk only ask him for so many Proms. More bizarrely, why did BBC Television choose not to film the EUYO concert for broadcast (Radio 3's transmission is on the iPlayer for the next month)? The fact that they'll be transmitting the National Youth Orchestra Prom is no excuse: it shouldn't be a case of either/or, but both. And what better to spell out the message that there IS a future for great orchestral music than the enthusiasm and commitment of these photogenic young players with their handsome young conductor, the already great Vasily Petrenko (replacing an indisposed Semyon Bychkov, who would also no doubt have trained them up to the hilt)? Was it politics or is there a less sinister explanation? Shame on you, Beeb - you should be helping to tell the world that this is what we're fighting for in Europe. True internationalist Sir Henry Wood would have thought so too. I asked Chris especially to snap this one for us.

Anyway, I was there on Tuesday evening with the diplo-mate - having to break his rule of avoiding all Proms, and he couldn't have admired it more - in the EU invitees' zone close to the stage, leaving Alexandra to write up the event for TAD. I didn't sway her beyond a very late message saying that if she didn't give it five stars, she would be exiled to an island of exclusively baroque music. There was no need: she'd already written the piece by then, and she touches on just about everything I would have done, very much in her own eloquent style, so I don't have to reduplicate here.

Just a few points of my own, then: first, that I've never heard a more detailed, coherent or intelligent performance of the baggy-monster Fourth. Petrenko, at times sexy-sinuous, at others rhythmically taut, amazingly so in the Berio, drove a line through Shostakovich's most outlandish orchestral work without ever being over-emphatic.

There was much more more lyricism than we've come to expect, more sheer fun in the concerto-for-orchestra parade of solos and groups, while never losing sight of the terrifying overall rhetoric. And what an extra layer of emotion there was in hearing a first-half work which seemed to think that 'classical' music had shattered into fragments, never to be pieced together again, and an even greater masterpiece ending in total annihilation, and finding them in the hands of a future which is as bright performer-wise as it is in the new wave of post-Darmstadt, post-modern composers who are no longer afraid of the kind of cornucopia Shostakovich loved so much.

I've written about the Inspire Workshop event over on TAD, but the BBC were slow in getting Chris's pictures over to me, which is how I can indulge in a few more here. That was fun, but the EUYO concert has burned itself on my heart as what will have to be the most extraordinary Prom this year, however much of excellence is no doubt still to come.

Young and old alike must rejoice that today is the 100th anniversary of Tove Jansson's birth, a special day she shares with her Moominpapa (anyone's guess), the diplo-mate (thirtysomething, of course) and his mother Wyn (86, doing pretty well by the sea yesterday). Shot of the last two at St Leonard's from behind only due to privacy wishes.

I raise my special Hemulen mug to the great author, and like to think of her like this below in 1956 on her special island with her partner Tuulikki Pietilä and her beloved mother Signe Hammarsten-Jansson, the 'Grandmother' of the volume I most often gift, The Summer Book  (remember this to young Sophia, countering the child's insistence of 'a big, enormous Hell': 'You can see for yourself that life is hard enough without being punished for it afterwards. We get comfort when we die, that's the whole idea').

Tove would approve last Saturday's outing to Holland Park and Will Todd's splendid opera for children Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (or should that perhaps be 'New Adventures') with goddaughter Mirabel. I managed to sneak in a picture of her with the lovely Fflur Wyn, Alice personified, to the Arts Desk review, but felt it might be overload there to include Keel Watson's very friendly Caterpillar

and the family bear of long wear and tear, Special/Spesh, occupying the White Rabbit's cage in the opera's Grimthorpe Pet Shop.

Fortunately they all lived happily shortly after: Spesh was released to join Mirabel,  ma Edsy and auntie June for tea and scones chez nous.


Susan Scheid said...

Ah, how I wish I could have been there for this Proms! How thrilling it had to have been, and these two works paired, such a brilliant, over-the-top program. Even for those of us at a distance, though, you and your TAD colleague make the excitement palpable, as do the wonderful photographs—and how glad I am that at least I can listen, though I know already that it can't possibly compare with seeing as well as listening, right in the hall. I do have to confess that I’m unable to have unalloyed enthusiasm for Petrenko, no matter how good he is (and I'm persuaded of that). I can only hope he'll mature as a person over time. That said, I do wholeheartedly agree it’s a shame the concert wasn’t broadcast (and also made available to us around the world). To be able to see as well as hear these young performers give their all is the surest possible antidote to the hand-wringing that sometimes goes on about the state of classical music, proof positive of “a future which is as bright performer-wise as it is in the new wave of post-Darmstadt, post-modern composers who are no longer afraid of the kind of cornucopia Shostakovich loved so much.” So well said.

David said...

I know what you mean about V Petrenko. Not only did he make that stupid statement about women conductors, but then squirmed nonsense about it applying to Russia - which is now so splendidly disproved by the brilliant director of the superb Natalia Sats Children's Theatre, Alevtina Yoffe. He was also a bit of a bully, as I think I've said, when I had to interview him before an audience: played to their prejudices about critics and got them on his side, though I don't think I could have been nicer to him.

So in this case I separate the man from the artist, which of course would be going too far in the case of Gergiev now. At least VP is a Russian prepared to conduct a beacon of European enlightenment, as was Semyon Bychkov who had to pull out with a wounded knee, I think it was.

Anyway, after four Proms in a row, I'm taking today off - ought to get away from the computer but couldn't resist adding that bit about Tove, Alice and birthdays.

Susan Scheid said...

Ah, your Tove postscript is lovely! Enjoy your R&R. You've certainly earned the right!

Catriona said...

Shame on you, David, for regarding the baroque as punishment! Especially after I enjoyed Ludus Baroque at St John's Kirk, Perth, on Wednesday, with Anna Dennis singing the eponymous Athalia.
The Festival has also started - are you paying us a visit? I didn't go to the Opening Concert (one friend became a Friend this year just so he could get tickets), so my Festival started with Ganesh versus the Third Reich. Rather unsettling piece, played by actors with disabilities and one without - though I would regard his character's over-use of the word 'amazing' as patronising verging on a disability.
Off to the James plays today - three in one day. So glad that the forecast is for bad weather. It always seems such a waste to spend a sunny day in a darkened theatre, no matter how good the play.

David said...

You misunderstand me, Catriona. Anything exclusively played would be a punishment: I might just as well have said 'an island of gargantuan late romantic symphonies'. It's just that Alexandra's special core, though as the review proves she is perceptive across the board, is that era + Britten, so my own 'cheap jibe' was to that effect. I could actually do with two weeks walled up with Rameau, so much do I love him now. A fortnight, mind, not an indefinite exile's worth.

Doesn't sound from my pal Christopher Lambton's review on The Arts Desk as if the first night was worth fighting for. Yes, I'm heading up soon to join the diplo-mate, and hope to see the James plays on separate nights. May take a break from music, though Alban Gerhardt and Steven Osborne appeal.

Don't miss the Owen Wingrave whatever you do (see TAD rave of an Aldeburgh performance). And listen to the EUYO Prom.

David Damant said...

The Russians ARE bullies - most of the ones I met over my years of visiting Moscow had that in them, of course to varying extents. Also they are male chauvinists, again in varying degrees. It is impossible to pull together all the elements as to why these things are the case, but Robert Conquest - I have quoted him before - points out the centuries of archaic brutality and the decades of a corrupt and wicked philosophy. Anyway they are not like us. They think differently

There has been a rather amusing consequence of the Russian male's view of women. Under communism all enterprises had forms filled in by book keepers which on completion were sent off to Moscow to be used in central planning. The book keepers' job was pretty low level and nearly all of them were women. When the free market arrived however they were the only people who knew anything about accounting and suddenly they were in demand and earned a lot, dressed well etc. They now tend to be in the Heavy Battle Cruiser Class

Even so the men up top did not think that this was right. At a meeting with some United Nations people the spokesman from the Russian Ministry of Finance said that in Russia 88% of the accountants were women as compared with a very small percentage in the West, for example Germany (13% or so), and this was something that Russia needed to put right! You can imagine the reaction of the senior women in the group from the UN......

One reason why (as you know) I am in favour of extending contacts between Russia and the West is that - especially as new generations appear - these archaic attitudes will be dissolved. The Russians were never children of the Enlightenment but we are (still, I hope), and the great feature of the Enlightment was that reason and more reason should be applied to all questions. Thus the effects of contacts of all kinds can be beneficial

Incidentally although one might hope that Petrenko will mature the fundamental point is not an individual but the national character, and with Putin dictating the modes of thought one cannot be too hopeful.

I might add that music is a splendid solvent of the cramped attitudes which stem from the past, essentially since music contains an objective value which draws everyone involved into a sphere outside the self and may enable that self to dissolve its programming by upbringing and national prejudices.

David said...

I love that accouting tale, Sir David. But isn't it interesting that after the Revolution Soviet women went immediately into the kind of jobs ours only achieved in the Second World War, after which it was back to the hearth and the kitchen. The Russian women I know, like my friend Sima, engineer turned museum curator and who knows what now that she's moved from St Petersburg to join her daughter Natasha in Sacramento (I lost touch), are remarkably strong. They are celebrated in Yevtushenko's fine poem In the Store, used as the third movement of Shostakovich's Thirteenth ('Babi Yar') Symphony.

Catriona said...

Mea culpa, David. Anyhow, two down, one to go of the James plays. I'll be very interested in your own response to them.
Looking forward to the light relief of The Sixteen tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Such a charming image of the two at tea, side by side but appearing to be in their own worlds: Spesh looking blissful, as Very Special Bears often do; the diminutive Mirabel absorbed in her lovely tea. Wonderful photo! Not much more to add here, only a word in mention of Shostakovich. In a conversation over at Facebook about music that sounds like summer, my (that is, your) contribution was the piece you included in your recent Bach post, Schubert's A Major Sonata. It was the reward we offered in response to the Shostakovich Op. 87 A Major Prelude and Fugue No. 7. This lilting piece is my new favorite Shostakovich. And A Major seems to be a good key for summer. -- Elizabeth

David said...

Curious to know if the James plays are heavy in a good way, Catriona. You could always warn me off them if they're just dreary as I don't HAVE to go.

Indeed, Elizabeth, I'm glad you warm to Spesh - he is so much more tractable than that bad-tempered elephant Mr Pants, to whom Mirabel is simultaneously engaged. I also love the three arms in the picture - Mirabel's, Auntie June's and our Lottie's as painted by mutual friend Ruth.

The A major link is one of those gifts that could keep on giving. You turned me straight to Shostakovich's own recording. The fugue, especially, with its angelic trumpeting is just exquisite. William Mann thought A major was Mozart's 'love' key, usually involving clarinets, as in Ferrando's 'Un' aura amorosa' from Cosi, possibly my favourite tenor aria.