Sunday, November 1, 2009

Concert night

It is some time since I went to an orchestral concert,
so going to one last night was like being exposed
afresh to a foreign culture. For a start, we noted with
interest that, as soon as the doors of the auditorium
closed just on 8pm, there was a mass migration from
the cheap seats into the unoccupied more expensive
ones. Swept along by an irresistible tide, we too joined
this great movement of peoples, seeking, as humans
have always done, to improve our lot in life. Then
came another surprise: the conductor of the NZSO
turned out to be a rubicund Finn with a startling
resemblance to Father Christmas. Unfortunately, he
had but one gift to give: one of his own symphonies
(he has composed 230 of the things), which went on
for some time in such a discordant way that I was
reminded of the anonymous lines sent to the Boston
Herald in 1924 after a Stravinsky concert:

Who wrote this fiendish Rite of Spring?
What right had he to write the thing,
Against our helpless ears to fling
Its crash, clash, cling, clang, bing, bang, bing?

Luckily the rest of the concert consisted of Sibelius’s
stirring Karelia Suite, a surge of Wagner suggestive of
political incorrectness and—what I was there for—
Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs, sung by Norwegian
soprano Solveig Kringelborn. Overshadowed, possibly,
by the frabjous Finn, whose massive back and flowing
white mane were a constant distraction, she seemed to
retreat modestly from the challenge of singing Strauss
rather than go boldly towards it. Why she had to stand
several metres back from the microphone was never
clear to me, though I'm sure there's a valid acoustic
explanation. Never mind: nothing could detract from the
overall beauty of the music, by which, I felt, the NZSO
players were wonderfully inspired. Though I may not go
to many of their concerts, I'm happy to see a portion of
my tax payments keep them in business. And yes, it's
true: no recording in the world can beat the thrill of
hearing great music played live.


Mary McCallum said...

Oh lucky you, Denis. I love Four Last Songs but didn't get myself organised to get there. I am still chuckling at your Finnish Father Christmasish maestro. Lovely.

SeaJay said...

nice one.
nothing like it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the NZSO was good, if not great. I'm sure people don't get how good our nation's orchestra really is. But you're kidding on one front. the microphones were for radio (i think rnz), not for amplification. She could have kissed them to no more acoustic effect!!!!