Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Beethoven – from page to stage (and beyond…)

As the title of this post indicates, it chronicles a journey through and around one piece of living, breathing music – in this case, the virtuosic, Mozart- and Haydn-influenced (but, nevertheless, recognizably) Beethoven’s own Second Piano Concerto. The reason for doing so is to not only study the work on paper (invaluable as that definition of its potential can be); but also to observe the involved musicians – Orchestra of the Swan, conductor David Curtis, and especially pianist Thomas Nickell (right) – as they prepare, firstly, for its performance; then, secondly, deliver the resulting collaborative interpretation live; and, finally, record it.

I know that I am extremely fortunate in having been able to follow this process. That it takes place – as catalogued here – over only a few days is, on one hand, some sort of miracle; but, on the other, completely misleading: as I obviously cannot keep up with each individual, equally-important, contributing member in their own private preparations: for example, the orchestral oboe player repeating a gritty phrase at home, over and over, until satisfied; David’s intense study of the score, analyzing structure, form, and line in minute detail; or even Thomas, setting himself the challenge of ‘conquering’ this challenging work, spending hundreds of hours at the keyboard until the notes flow willingly from his fingertips. Please remember, therefore, that what follows – still a huge amount of hard work for all of those accomplished people now gathered together; and all of it invested in making sure that what you hear and see is as startlingly great (subjectively; emotionally; objectively; technically) as it can be – really is only the tip of a very deep iceberg: one formed from talent, effort, and love.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

That band who so vauntingly swore…

I wrote (almost exactly twenty-four hours ago – although the two days cushioning this period have somehow become concatenated; or even coalesced, commingled…) that…

This is not the chamber OOTS you thought you knew; this is an overwhelming, resonant army of talented and mighty musical soldiers shocking-and-awing, marching to magnificence…

…one of my reasons for saying so not just being the “lot more chairs laid out… than perhaps was usual” consideration, but what had precipitated that augmentation – the orchestra playing outside its normal repertoire (almost as if they were in their away strip on a strangely sloping ground only the home team was supposed to have grokked; but which actually gave the proficient and passionate visitors some preternatural advantage). The conclusion, therefore, being that they should do more such things: maybe a chamber version of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony (not my idea – but this post’s dedicatee’s) or Gurre-Lieder (although I may have had a partial – and temporary – lingual gena intercalation when suggesting this to artistic director David Curtis…)?!

There is a serious point to be made here, though: and that is – whatever the size of the OOTS ‘team’ on any given day; and whatever the scores laid before them – two truths will be self-evident: firstly, that every single player will be continually giving their utmost (an OOTS trademark that surpasses all other such ensembles); secondly, that you will be able to hear every single player doing so – their melodic, harmonic, leading, or supporting, lines of notes – continually. It doesn’t matter if it is a blaring fortississimo final chord, or a passage of finger-to-the-Curtis-lip, hushed pianississimo melancholy: you can guarantee that every single line of the stave dotted with notes at that time will be impeccably balanced and astoundingly audible. Just so.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

In full glory reflected now shines in the stream…

The first thing that would have struck you on entering Stratford ArtsHouse, last night, was that there were a lot more chairs laid out for the Orchestra of the Swan than perhaps was usual. This was to be a big concert in many ways: but the maximum volume output was perhaps the most noticeable – although David Curtis’ smile, conducting the first movement of Copland’s Four Dance Episodes from RodeoBuckaroo Holiday – wasn’t that far off from matching it. (And neither were some of his more demonstrative gestures!)

What a great piece of music to pull you away from the miserable grey wetness of a Warwickshire evening: especially when played with such verve – and truly astonishing precision! We were now on the far side of The Pond (in a ‘wild west’ where it never rains); and we would not leave America all evening – the second Rodeo movement, Corral Nocturne, truly pulling us in (if not lulling us into lovelorn dreams of our own).

Saturday Night Waltz – a self-styled “Texas minuet” – after its shockingly rude awakening – is just as beautiful (if not more so): the violins (under leader Fenella Humphreys) getting a chance to shine, before the woodwind dominate the central trio – slower and more luscious; and just as romantic.

The final movement, Hoe-Down, starts as it means to go on, though; and marks the birth of every ‘Western’ movie soundtrack ever produced. It is a thing of unmitigated joie de vivre and controlled ‘rough-and-readyness’ (albeit requiring a huge amount of concentration from its players). [“This is about cowboys,” laughed David. “It’s not sophisticated stuff!” (Neither was the too-early “bravo!” from Yours Truly: so deeply immersed in the music that I had forgotten the movement’s heffalump trap. David and OOTS – God bless them all – just grinned, and carried on. Consummate professionals all.)] And we were thus rewarded with the ride of our lives! (It’s a good job the piano had to be moved: giving us a chance to get our breath back; and me to lose some of the colour from my blushing face….)