Of Patriots & Puppets
So it seems that the CA/Test week had little effect on my concert attendance these few weeks, during which I visited the Esplanade an average of ~1.7 times per week. For the sake of my sanity, and seeming like a cultured individual, I’ll start doing some concert reviews over here.
The latest concert I watched was Kavakos’ Sibelius Violin Concerto (+ Mahler’s 1st but that was an afterthought [to me]). Well the Mahler was alright but I’m biased and couldn’t care less. Kavokos on the other hand, made me think twice over the “overplayed” Sibelius. It was at once clean, rough, lyrical and rustic, started standard yet finished flavourfully.
In more understandable terms, Kavakos’ technical security notwithstanding (well he did misspace a set of sixths in the 3rd movement), his daring to “bite” through lyrical sections, look risky on his left hand (he shifted with a combination of arm and hand movement) and overall hippie appearance gave me an anti-establishment “screw you” feeling. That was to the point that I was hoping so hard that he would play a Ysaye for the encore just because he looked and sounded the part that night. The phrasing was as natural as the bow changes were abrupt and articulated, yet seemed to breathe a new meaning into the old song. The “gypsy” feel to it was almost as though he was going through (in my own words) a “mid-life, hippie, anti-establishment crisis” and he was tired of the modern world and it’s clean, sterile sound and copies of what-this-or-that-should-be. The “winter air” opening became grittier (on a Strad no less), and the 3rd movement was just “let-ripped”, so to speak.
Of course it could just be him forcing the sound out of his rather elegant Strad, but the 2 Bach encores he played proved otherwise. The Sarabande (D minor) and Adagio (C major) was one of the smoothest sounding set of renditions I’ve ever heard live or recorded. The repeats of the Sarabande were lightly embellished, and overall, if the organ were a string instrument, it could be taken that Bach had imagined this sound when he put his quill to his manuscript.
This concert set me thinking much more than most of the others this year, including Gabriel Ng’s incredibly mature take on Elgar’s Violin Concerto, about how the old school sound can still be relevant and, most importantly, heard and loved in (or despite?) the current zeitgeist.
Barely hours ago, I had the privilege of playing yet again with TPO, with a very strong orchestra since the days of the failed re-playing of Sibelius 1 and 3. With a formidable wind and brass section, and augmented strings with new and returning additions, tonight’s Petrushka was (although shakier than the soundcheck run) a memorable one. For all the 5/8 bars and rapid, regular (!?) time signature changes, the raw, unadulterated spirit of Petrushka was manifested and hopefully touched the audience in turn.
The pre-concert talk probably left the strongest impression on the audience, with “Bill” Ledbetter armed with his arsenal of costumes, cold jokes, a choir and even a keyboard prop. The audience was taken on a comedy-lecture on the origin, plot, harmonic devices and rhythmic patterns of Petrushka, and the combination of music and narration, with a healthy dose of audience (and orchestral) participation, proved to be a potent and successful formula.
What touched me deepest today was in fact, no offence to the orchestra or choir, but a single uttered word after the 3rd and final number that TPCC performed. It was a Russian folk tune meant to pass as one of Stravinsky’s works; its title is still currently unknown to me even though it was a fun and almost tribal tune, simple but not simpler (to paraphrase Einstein).
The “bravo~” that came from one in the audience made tears start in my eyes. Perhaps it was lilt in her (probably) voice, or the slight Eastern European accent that suggested such a song brought back memories of her childhood, or perhaps it was the perfect timing in which she broke the silence before the applause came in like a wave caresses the gentlest shore. I felt the odd serenity that one sees when presented, say, with a vast plain that stretches as far as the eye reaches, or a crystal clear night sky as seen from a hilltop, when suddenly one realises that all that is beautiful will one day become the past. Luckily the tears were easily blinked back. The awkward warmth that I may have imagined lingered on for about half a minute before the comic atmosphere took over, but that first roller-coaster drop will probably be etched in my own memory, resisting much weathering of time.
P.S. The word I was looking for wrt the little pastries from Delifrance is “Macaroons”. Glad my brain took the liberty to search for that word over the length of the whole concert.
P.P.S. After Googling it seems that those were just tarts and not Macaroons per se. “Petit Fours” was suggested by David and seems much more relevant here.
P.P.P.S Pictures of petit fours are making me hungry