Thursday, 12 March 2009

And the kids came too

I had been very much looking forward to last night's concert at the Barbican Hall. First it was Thomas Quasthoff and the Berliner Barock Solisten playing Bach and Handel. Secondly we were going to a press reception so we wouldn't have to buy our own drinks or queue at the bar. Afterwards there was even a teensy chance we might meet the great man himself at another reception later on, if we could hang about. Thirdly, as (I've said before) we first heard TQ 20 years ago when we were just married, there were happy feelings around the whole evening, and it was going to be a relaxed grown up DATE.

Then I looked at the tickets. In some moment of utter madness, Daniel had bought four adult tickets and one under-sixteen one.

It was unthinkable to allow the kids to duck out of coming, the idea of having empty seats right under Quasthoff's nose was shaming. So first the job of persuading the kids to come. Then the panic about feeding them, stopping them having all out blazing rows in the middle of the concert hall...and there was of course no question of hanging about to meet Quasthoff because Certain People have to go to bed.

It's the year 2001 and Aggie is 3. We take her to a daytime folk concert at the Wigmore Hall. In the middle she stands up and says, "This is so boring" in a loud voice. There is nothing so unstoppable as a 3 year old who wants to say something. my date is shot to pieces. I feel incredibly angry with Dan, and I feel even more angry with myself for feeling so uncharitable to my dear darlings. And I feel profound disappointment.

In the end the kids were sweet, loving, patient and kind to their grumpy mother. The music and TQ's performance were heavenly and thanks to a bribe of £10, Aggie was silent, relaxed and attentive throughout the performance. Leo was exemplary (and had NOT been bribed), and of course Edith is an old hand at this, plus she added much-needed grace and ornament to the press reception.
And oh well, so what if we didn't get to meet Quasthoff. I'd have probably made a fool of myself.


For one thing, there is the dilemma on being introduced to Thomas Quasthoff: to go down on one knee, or to bow? By far the preferable option is obviously to go down on one knee. Bending over is bad for the back, looks terrible and also would give the great man an unrequested and unwanted view of wrinkly middle-aged cleavage. Quasthoff has a certain undeniable charm...a woman does not want to look a complete idiot. Not even at my age.

I notice from news footage that the lovely and youthful Mrs Quasthoff has perfected an elegant running genuflexion: there is a film on Youtube of her smoothly dipping, rising and dipping again (for a quick snog) with ease. Obviously the kneeling option is the expert's choice. You are immediately on a level and you are able to maintain good posture while talking.

But what one might term the "Claudia Quasthoff running bob" presents certain problems for those of us not quite so limber. My big fear would be not being able to get back up again without aid, especially while wearing high heels. I have a scary vision of myself flailing about helplessly on the empty acres of the Barbican concourse, still trying to get up long after everyone has gone home.... And another thing. Some of my trousers get a bit tense around the bum in that position: what if there was a terrible ripping sound? Worse still, some of Dan's suits are very old: they might not stand up to the strain.

I suppose it's back to the gym...

But for now back to the concert.

The Berliner Barock Solisten are just wonderful and if they come to London again I want to hear them play again. Most of them play standing up, like management consultants who have been on a management training course about stand-up meetings. They don't have a conductor - their Stradivarius-wielding leader, Rainer Kussmaul (what a name) kind of looks over at the band all the time sending thought waves. So they are a very big small band...and they have a theorbo! There was a big cellist in my way and I could not see it being played, though I could see it sticking up behind the cellists' heads like a crane. It's f-ing huge!
TQ was in really fine voice, or so I thought, of course I know nothing about music. I don't feel I'm hearing exactly the dark golden honey which knocked me sideways all those years ago in Passau - but the voice is still velvety rich. Very appropriate that we were promised "hot chocolate cocktails" after the concert.
Now here's the shocking thing. Exactly as Ben Heppner had to do last month TQ had to begin the concert by announcing that the programme had been printed wrongly, missing out a whole Brandenburg Concerto from the list. "So you will get even more for your money," he joked.
Yep, every time I've been to a concert in the last 2 months something has been wrong with the programme. My suspicion is cutbacks and over-use of inexperienced unpaid interns instead of professionals.

Favourite bits? Hard to say. I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed the Brandenburg C, the BBS's bite and rhythm and sense of galloping along succeeded in conquering the strange feeling one has, on hearing this music, that one is on hold. It is great to hear a BC live instead of tinnily down a telephone receiver.
I adored the six part Ricercar. Bach wrote this to persuade Frederich II of Prussia to pay his son CPE properly. I don't get the logic of this; surely Frederich must have gone away with his lovely Ricercar thinking, "Wow, it's easy to get free stuff out of these Bachs"?
Quasthoff sang with great brilliance and I especially adored "The people that walked" from the Messiah and the aria "O First in Wisdom" from Joshua.
For an encore he sang an intense and moving moment from the St Matthew Passion. It was magical.
Quasthoff complained on regaining the stage at one point that "the stairs are more work than to sing".

Fashion note: Everyone in casual matt black, no ties, black or white. Some of the BBS should bear in mind that black fades with time. TQ in classic musician's black silk roll-neck. I want to get one for Dan.
Audience downright scruffy.
My daughter Edith looked exquisite, of course, and my daughter Agatha looked as exquisite as is possible wearing a hoody with pasta sauce down the front and sheepskin boots.


Cantat, BWV 42 - Sinfonia
Cantata, BWV 57 - Ja, ich kann die Feinde schlagen
Musical Offering, BWV1079 - Six-part Ricercar
Cantata, BWV 73 - Ach, unser Wille Bleibt verkehrt; Herr, so du willt, so schicks mit mir
Third Brandenburg Concerto
Cantata, BWV 82 - Mein Gott! Wann kommt das schoene Nun!; Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod

Messiah, HWV 56 - Overture; For behold; The people that walked
Concerto grosso, Op 3 No 2 (HWV 313)
Joshua, HWV 64 - Oh Joshua, both to rule; O First in Wisdom; Sinfonia; The walls are levell'd; See the raging flames

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