Sunday, 1 March 2009

Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts Gurrelieder (and nearly flies off the podium)

For a moment during the last seconds of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder at the Royal Festival Hall last night I thought Esa-Pekka (crazy name, crazy guy) was about to achieve lift off as he exhorted his 400 strong orchestra and choir with the ultimate physical expressions of the idea of "onward and upward", his knees quivering and bouncing, and his toes only just managing to remain on the podium.

The real star of this piece is the orchestra, rather than the 6 singers or even the electrifying "Sprecher" (actually a Sprecherin, ) as the music is so bright and colourful and solid you can almost reach out and touch it. Basically Dan and I had a brilliant time and were among the first to jump up at the end and encourage a lengthly standing ovation. (Also the seats at the RFH are a nightmare. My back was killing me.)

Written mostly when Schoenberg was pretty young, and the last bit ten years later, it is so evocative of Mahler, with a bit of Wagner too, that I suppose it was inevitable he'd want to branch out into stuff I can't listen to. The final chorus about the sun coming up is fabulous and ought, Dan said rather strangely, to be a Classic FM favourite. Why that would be good for it I really can't tell.

Barbara Sukowa, the Sprecher, was scintillating. The Waldtaube, Monica Groop, was also marvellous. It was only afterwards that I learned the heroine Tove is murdered by Waldemar's wife. So she's a homebreaker and a hussy and got what she deserved. Pah!

The one slight, very slight disappointment was that Stig Andersen's voice wasn't not quite strong enough to top the volume of such a large orchestra, though for people sitting in front of him it was probably OK. We were near the front-right, and right by the double basses so we got a strange sound mix all in all.

The RFH is really going down hill. We nearly got stuck in a queue to enter the carpark - no full sign. There were only 2 people serving millions at the bar in the 20 minute interval. The management even f***ed up the programmes. They were supposed to have the words in an insert but lots of them didn't have the insert. Dan found a crowd of furious people haranguing a programme seller. I bought a programme with the insert easily at half time...from a programme seller sitting with nobody buying his programmes. We had our CD programme notes with us and the words were projected in English onto a screen above the orchestra throughout, so it didn't matter hugely. The projected words were rather a nuisance, very distracting. And "Extraordinary Tove" is a useless translation for "wunderschoene Tove". "What an extraordinary young woman," he seems to be saying.

I think they wanted to discourage noisy page-turning - it was being recorded for Radio 3.

Audience behaviour: well, not too bad actually, and no phones, but right in the middle of the sunrise chorus two old people - one on each side of the stalls, decided "ah, a noisy bit, I can go home now and no one will notice" and just walked out. Unbelievable. These were people in their 70s - surely a generation which knows how to behave? Evidently not.

Fashion note. Why do the male singers wear white tie and tails while Essa-Pekka is in a more contemporary outfit (black nehru collar number)? Can't they co-ordinate? The women had got it together and were in evening dress of comparable formality. Everyone would think it odd if one of the women singers was in a low cut evening dress and the other in a suit and blouse, wouldn't they?

Another fashion note. My new comfortable high heeled shoes (yes! it can be done!) are wonderful and make me feel tall and sexy, And my scarlet cardigan from Coast with the chiffon bow is great.

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