Sunday, September 7, 2008


Perhaps it was another cold wet day too far, the crook dog, or the energy-sucking farce of elected politicians collapsing in a heap, all connections without talent, wiggling and swirming before resigning, no accountability, more squandered millions of our dollars gone, platitudes and selfish personal regrets... but by the end of the day neither of us felt particularly drawn to the Friday night SSO concert.

There were however two debuts. The young Norwegian conductor, Eivind Gullberg Jensen, and the Venezuelan pianist, Gabriela Montero, a child prodigy now blessed by the likes of Martha Agerich and with a reputation for improvisation and fun games with the audience. There was also the promise of works not yet heard by either of us, the Percy Grainger Danish Folk Music Suite and the Honnegger Liturgical Symphony, and sandwiched in between, the Grieg Piano Concerto. So off we went.

Eivand Gullberg Jensen was young and handsome, with gorgeous curls of Norwegian hair and a tall elegant stance. First up, the Percy Grainger. It sounded very English to me, and was mercilessly complex in parts. Sometimes it felt like they were about to burst into some marching band beat, pick up their instruments and head off down The Mall, but no, here comes Danny Boy. Mr Jensen tried hard. I'd liked to have seen his face. It certainly didn't seem like his favorite music. When I asked K how many rehearsals it might take to get that right, he said, well more than the rehearsal we just heard. It was all saved by the organ, which like some smooth chocolate sauce somehow held it together. I heard later the Wednesday night was better.

Gabriella Montero is an imposing figure, her South American face half covered with flaxen Scandinavian locks, which she could brush aside mid solo, no trouble at all thank you very much.
The Grieg was confident and strong, and the Norwegian conductor had found his stride. This was home territory. It was lovely. Her firmness of touch in the first movement was as evident in the second, but she danced lightly on the keys, little starry starry Nordic stars tinkling through the hall. It was exactly what we needed, lyricism and beauty, and a cleansing of the filth of the week.

Without any encouragement, she encored straight into her party trick. Turned to the audience, she called for a tune, some starter. A few notes were mouthed out from the west boxes, rather indistinct, nothing really to go on. So Dene Olding, a little too unspontaneously, zipped up a few notes. Off she went, an attractive free flowing run around the keyboard, if not startlingly original, certainly not too generic either. Lots of clapping. Then, a grey haired woman sitting in the front row directly opposite the piano stool said something softly, there was a brief exchange, and tilting her head back a little, she sang an ascending melody, her voice opening up to nearly fill the hall. Wow. Back at the piano, Montero repeated the phrase a few times, letting it develope, then off she went again, but headed in a more Bach direction this time, perhaps just to be different, which it was by the time she finished. Lots more clapping. Everyone was having fun, and fun was what we needed.

The first half was longer than usual and the prospect of a quick escape to the country was too much; lets skip the Honneger. This gave some time during the interval to meet the pianist signing CDs in the foyer, and also cruise the CD counter again. I had spotted a big find for me: the Concert Hall Opening Concert 29 September 1973. I was in the audience. There it was, ABC Classics, with a supplementary DVD of the occassion. I suspect I was beaming as I bought it. It sat side-by side with a Naxos label John Antill's Corroboree (New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, James Judd) of which I had read glowing reviews somewhere, and had mentally stored as a buy. Bought. Oh, and there's Radu Lupu playing the Grieg and its companion piece in many ways, the Schumann, Decca Classics. Bought.

The Mackerras Opening Concert I've been stroking with reverance, still unopened. The Antill had a short listen, returning later. The Grieg and Schumann both sound cold on first listening. I grew up on Dinu Lipatti. I will buy some Dinu Lipatti.

Driving away, Norway stayed in the conversation, with its unfailingly polite people in their beautiful fiordland. We had visited in June this year and heard the Schoenberg Gurrelieder in the Grieghallen in Bergen. This late 60s building was also the result of a Dane winning a competition, and the raw concrete interiors and ribbing are reminiscent of our own. The night we were there, the last night of the Bergen Music Festival, the interiors were lit a hot pink.

Grieghallen interior

Grieghallen exterior

Bergen Norway, spring