Mendelssohn and Mussorgsky

Happily last Sunday night I’d booked to attend the first concert in the National Concert Hall International Orchestral Series. The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, who I am told are moving back up the rankings under the baton of Riccardo Chailly proposed a concert of two pieces by Mendelssohn and two by Moussorgsky.

Walking to the concert hall in Dublin, I mused if the two M composers would be followed later by two Ns. But I could only think of Nielsen, the fantastic Danish composer. At the concert hall I checked discretely at the music shop but they only had Nielsen on offer….plenty of Ms (Mozart and Mahler obviously) so the concept of the alphabetic series of concerts may not have a great future.

The tone of the orchestra was very mellow (and I should stress that I go to concerts as a fan not a critic) and you could see that the conductor had a good team of players. They swayed with the music to the left and then the right and then forward for strength and backwards for feeling. My neighbour followed the same pattern of movement and I got the impression that I was at sea close to Fingals cave. So I fixed my eye on the horizon to avoid an unpleasant incident. But the horizon in the concert hall is a rather hospital green. I wondered if the orchestra thought that pleasantly Irish or a relatively cold colour in an island with high humidity that removes few degrees from the official thermometer by the time it reaches your bones.

And the orchestra…probably a 100 of them all PhDs in their métier. A mixture of the serious and the drones. The blond haired violist that could be the next Nigel Kennedy if he supported a team with a scarf that was not claret and blue was in his element. The second violinist was great at the eye contact with the conductor and attentive at turning the pages of the score for the leader of the Orchestra. I noticed that, apart from that duo and the lead cellists, the musician on the outside turned the pages for the partner sharing the score. Was there a union rule or did everybody negotiate who took on that chore?

Then there was the inevitable intense musician who did not break into a shape of relaxation, or achievement or enjoyment all night. Just intensity. I wondered if there was some family problem, if she really should be elsewhere tonight, or if she was just a method player as Brando was a method actor.

Saleem Abboud Ashkar was the soloist for Mendelssohn’s 1st Piano Concerto. Described very politically correct, if not fully sensitive, as a Palestinian-Israeli pianist, was great. As I was sitting very close I could see the intensity of his engagement and the sound followed. Of course he did not have a score to follow….and then I wondered why did the orchestra members need a score? When in a choir decades ago I knew that we performed much better when we did not have the music to aid/save/distract us. And a forgetful moment by a soloist would have much greater consequences than one by the 4th row violinist. Still that’s the convention and I am a fan.

Moussorgsky followed the break with Night on Bald Mountain and Pictures at an Exhibition. The latter piece is terrific with changing moods. But then I got concerned when I started to think that perhaps the two pieces should change their titles…..the top of the mountain could accommodate the variations, perhaps better than an Exhibition. And the opening section of the Pictures sounded eerily like early post-revolution Chinese classical music.

What happens to my mind when enwrapped in a cocoon of wonderful artistic melody? It was a great evening, full of first level enjoyment and a stimulus for imaginative forays…and all of them away from Science!

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