Thursday, 4 September 2008

Prom 64: Yin, Yang, and Chaos Theory

I am a newcomer to Messaien but if I had to pick an exponent of the Turangalila Symphony, I couldn’t have chosen a worthier or better champion than Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Phil.

It is a large abstract piece but with a concrete core and an earth-bound effect. It is also an amazing exercise in juxtaposition: yin vs. yen; man vs. woman; thrust vs. pull; tenderness vs. passion.

This is a symphony of duelling duos intertwining then de-coupling with an energy worthy of a Picasso, though unlike Picasso, the 'Joie' (which recurs often in the notes)
is personified in the union between man and woman, something you don’t often see in his pictures.

The fifth section is in the form of a ballet worthy of a Gene Kelly musical as inflated and daring but equally fun and tongue-in-cheek until something very disruptive mischievously breaks it up creating a happy chaotic scampering, bobbing and clamouring effect.

Is sexual desire the mischievous child/clown and the dance the deeper layer of love? Christmas is here at the end as an eruption of utter joy pushes the orchestra louder than I ever heard an orchestra play at the RAH (NY Phil, eat your heart out).

Then follows the garden where lovers sleep yawning on a lazy post-coital afternoon, finishing with the chimes of times passing.

This is a very pictorial music once you’ve grasped the main theme (thanks to the programme notes). For chaos returns more destructive, random and cruel, but not entirely evil, just majestic and serendipitous.

The duality and battle of extremes fill the second half of the symphony as it surges ever louder into melody chopped and suppressed by chaotic strings (piano excellently played by Pierre-Laurent Aimard) and reaches a level of almost pagan awe which is remarkable considering Messaien was such a committed Catholic to the last. As if his love of woman and his Gallic rejoicing in the beauty of sex were not in conflict with his more religious beliefs. Rather refreshing!

This is a remarkably orchestrated giant of a symphony with a huge message of the wonder of human love in its heart, but it was also made accessible by lucid and clear interpretation for which a novice such as I am cheerfully grateful.

(Zeina Trewin)

RAH Live

Prom 64: Messaien: Turangalila Symphony; Berlin Philharmonic; Pierre-Laurent Aimard (pno); Tristan Murial (ondes martinot).

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

When is an Encore not an Encore?

I've just read (in the one and only review of it on the R3 'Review' pages) that the "clapping and stamping of the audience" at the NYPO's Prom 58 "encouraged three encores".

It didn't. I hated that concert—as you've read below—and left as soon as the Tchaikovsky was finished, to be told by two stewards outside the hall itself, just as the first encore started, that I couldn't use a lift (which I need, because I'm crippled) until after the third encore. They knew what they were going to be, and the approximate timings. I'd actually overheard two during the interval talking about a kind of "extra time" but I didn't grasp the significance.

I'm not naive enough to think conductors don't often have "one they prepared earlier" but it seems on this occasion at least, the "encores" were really part of the concert and were irrelevant to the audience's reaction. And irrelevant as to whether they were going to be continually enthusiastic having heard one encore or two . . .

It seems to me, if not disingenuous, to border on the dishonest, particularly for the audience outside the hall itself, listening to radio or iPlayer, who might on some occasions not be able to get a true impression of the audience's reaction. Might even be misled, thinking "Well, it got three encores, so it must have been better than I thought."

It's far from unknown for the hall to be only half-full, especially for a late night Prom, and yet for the audience to be far more enthusastic than the volume of applause might appear if you aren't there. Conversely, it's also not unknown for claques to make a great noise, and give the impression they are the majority of the audience when they are not. Listeners might well be misled as to why the performers gave an encore in the first, and none in the second.

I wonder now how many other "encores" this season were going to be played anyway, regardless of the degree of enthusiasm or appreciation from the audience? What happened to the notion of spontaneity? Or even the idea that encores are not always necessary, or wanted? Or sometimes inappropriate?

I have known conductors adamantly refuse a Proms audience that was obviously eager for one, and though we've sometimes felt a little disappointed—because it's a way of saying "we liked that so much we really don't want to see you go"— it's something one must accept. It is not, Mr Maazel and members of the New York Philharmonic, an inalienable right under the American Constitution. And since we—not having a written constitution—would have to rely on the Human Rights Act, for your informatioon it's not in that, either.

I suppose the NYPO is going to do exactly the same as it continues its tour, and mislead even more. This isn't a reaction to an audience's appreciation: it's just building an image of popularity—advertising, to be blunt—for an audience and perhaps critics who don't know it was all pre-arranged.

I'm tempted now to ask quietly how many encores there will be, what they are, and how long they will last when I go in to my next Prom.

(That will be Rattle, the Berlin and the Turangalila tonight, by the way; we'll try to get the review up on Wednesday, but I'm afraid—because I had to struggle down the damn stairs last Friday—I'm a bit fragile and more than usually crippled and in pain this week . . .)