Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Say to Myself, "What's the Use?"

With the fire at the Philharmonie (the building has already been repaired to the level of being safe-to-use and the Philharmoniker is playing there this weekend (I should be standing-rooming one of the shows (Jansons, Shostakovich 6)), several of the Philharmoniker concerts got shuffled around to various other venues. The Abbado + Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto two weekends ago was shifted to the Waldbuehne – Berlin’s massive outdoor concert venue, making it untenable for me to attend (30 euros for the cheapest nosebleed seats). This past weekend’s concert, Sir Simon Rattle conducting Berlioz’ (Death of) Cleopatra and his Fantastic Symphony, was moved to “Hangar 2” at Flughafen Tempelhof – the old Nazi airport in South Central Berlin. The moving of the concert to a massive airplane hangar opened up many extra seats for the concerts so I went ahead and shelled out the 25 euros for one such seat, Rattle/Berliner Philharmoniker/Berlioz being absolutely unskippable.

And I made the right decision. As you might suspect, the acoustics in there were not the greatest – very boomy and muddy on the bottom end, and there were several instances –especially during Symphony Fantastique – when Rattle had to give the room an extra beat between hits to clear itself before proceeding. Playing in such a room also permanently cements for me the fact that Berliner Philharmoniker is unbelievably good. The amount of clarity that they were able to produce in such a context was an absolute marvel. And again, this is not an orchestra that is merely precise (though at this point I’m wondering if I haven’t built a straw man of the conception that the Berliner Phil is technically unrivaled but unemotional or whatever – I don’t know that anyone actually thinks that way (it certainly is an argument that is justly made (and joked about) about many of the Karajan/Berlin recordings, but in terms of actual performance practice?)), but rather an orchestra where the precision is always in service of performances of depth and emotion.

The singer who was to sing the Cléopâtre – Susan Graham – it was announced at the beginning of the concert, had suddenly become ill this day (Saturday the 31st) and was unable to perform. Instead, since they had performed it somewhere or other a couple weeks before, Cléopâtre was replaced with Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. I would never express delight at someone’s falling ill and being unable to perform, but I can’t help but feel lucky about this, as the concert suddenly became a Greatest Hits kind of performance. And again, though it seems that hear would be a chance for the orchestra just to pop off a quick run-through of the greatest symphony of the Romantic Era, in this giant hangar (the acoustic of which was probably even worse than Avery Fischer Hall), but instead played an absolutely stirring rendition. Or maybe I’m a sap. But I’m not. It was damn amazing.

And to loop back onto a thread from an earlier post, here is the type of concert where its entirely illogical to speak of tempo. With Rattle’s Beethoven 7, it becomes a matter of shape and movement – one doesn’t really even consider pace. The second movement was absolutely profound – one could tell from the opening phrase, the balance, but the pressing-ness of the fate of the material, so clearly and cleanly played. It’s the type of performance where I couldn’t help but take note of the fact that I was hearing it – since we’re talking Beethoven, perhaps this concert was the apotheosis of my conception of the Good for Good Reasons.

Also, and this is a rare out-showing of my lingering horn-player-ness (though I can admit, parenthetically, that I have written and deleted many other parenthetical horn-playerly comments as well this past month), but the second horn absolutely blew the shit of that little low turny figure she has in the third movement (“blew the shit out of” is, of course, a very positive comment (just to be clear about that)). On the verge, probably, of being “too much” but for me, fucking rad. And actually, since the stage was an elevated thing, Sir Simon Rattle (in his conductor’s yearbook, he was named Most Likely to be Asked to Go on a Quest to Destroy the One Ring that Rules Them All by Throwing it into a Volcano) didn’t actually leave it between rounds of applause, and after the second time, as he walked towards the back and side of the stage I saw him point to and laugh with the second horn player, clearly about the way she had played that part, and it was great to witness them having that moment. And before I leave the Horns again, let it be noted that I don’t think there’s an orchestra in America that can play Beethoven the way these two players did (really, only Vienna and maybe a handful of other German orchestras could) – they just make a sound that doesn’t exist on the other side of the Atlantic.

The Symphony Fantastique was similarly impressive. Rattle again showed an impressive command of the shaping of the piece – really nailing all the tension-buildings and releases of Berlioz’ score, never letting things get to quick or too stodgy. And, just to note this, the second tuba player had a note that didn’t fully speak in the initial incantation of the Dies Irae theme in the 5th movement, which, officially, is the first flubbed note I’ve ever heard this orchestra make (in what, maybe half a dozen concerts).

This summer for me, in terms of the concert-going is starting to attain the feeling of a last-bash, since eventually the student-ticket thing will stop for me (when I stop being a student) and a since no further money as of yet exists to get me back here. But yeah, it’s the kind of concert that seems primed to be remembered for a while.

Also, a helicopter took off outside during the 3rd movement of the Beethoven, which was too bad.

And if anyone out there is looking for a glamour vacation this fall, might I suggest that you head to Berlin for Saturday and Sunday September 20th and 21st. At this same venue, at the tail end of the Musik Fest Berlin, you can see Rattle and the Berliner Phil perform Messiaen’s Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum and Stockhausen’s Gruppen fuer drei Orchester on Saturday, followed by the Ensemble Intercontemporain playing Messiaen’s Des Canyons aux etoiles… on Sunday.


Blogger nate said...

I heard a flubbed note from the Berlin Philharmonic too: In 2001 they came to Vienna on tour with Claudio Abbado and I heard them perform Beethoven's first piano concerto and fifth symphony. At the start of the fifth, an oboe managed to come in just a tick before the rest of the instruments. This stood out like crazy, as it rendered the most iconic opening of any symphony ever as something like:


The audience reacted with that barely-voiced murmur of unrest that you get from well-behaved classical audiences, a combination of a wince and a low chuckle in tone. It was pretty funny, especially because (as you noted with the seventh symphony) the rest of the performance was just completely, unbelievably flawless.

Please tell how that Jansons/ Shostakovich 6 show goes if you get there. When Jansons did the sixth with the Pittsburgh Symphony way back when (that was probably nine years ago, actually) he took unusually slow, dour tempos in the last two movements, which plays up the "this music is not a happy dance" theory but, I decided some years later, also kind of sucks the energy out of the piece.

6/05/2008 10:29 AM  

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