Saturday, July 16, 2011


There were two(*) impressive debuts this week with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra - the lively New York born conductor James Gaffigan, leprechaun in size only, and the young Armenian violinist Sergey Khachtryan. I went on Friday, especially for the Sibelius Violin Concerto (1904, not 1804), and sat close, about eight rows back soloist side. It was strange walking into stalls after being away and thinking - but this hall looks small. Why has everything been looking small?

Who was the curly black haired New York (?Jewish) violinist who played the Sibelius about 20 years ago. It is one of those permanent imprints, perhaps because it was the first time I'd heard it live, but more likely it was the technical brilliance infused with a goodly dose of angst that so moved me.

Sergey Khachatryan looked so melancholic and his reading of this was a serious tragic meditation with even the final Allegro struggling to escape into optimism. It was achingly sad and deeply deeply felt. Did I mind? Not really. It is a seriously thoughtful work for me, the opening Allegro quite world weary and the sublime Adagio a poignant reverie on the struggle for faltering ascent to higher meaning, not realised here, but that's as possible as is (say) Nigel Kennedy's flight into transcendence. James Gaffigan paced it beautifully with nice dynamics and my only reservation would have been to reign the orchestra in even more with the soloist as he indulged the softest, almost disappearing, of highs, sometimes cut off, others left to fade to some cosmic minimalism.

The strings sounded nicely shimmery and pretty together, and it was girls nights in the strings, although I can't help but comment that the private joke and giggle between two after the first movement was mood breaking for those in the mood (obviously they weren't) and better kept till later. I wished I hadn't seen it.

A large Armenian contingent were there, and in fact some didn't return for the second half. They, well we, were treated to a traditional folk song as an encore - the Apricot Tree (I think that's what he said, and was left with the impression that it was the only one, and it had just died)- very beautiful, also very sad. I wanted to call out - do happy!

The Prokofiev was a Gaffigan arrangement, and a good story was told. They played well for him, with a high sense of drama and dance (does being a New Yorker help with dance), and the Death of Tybalt built to such an exciting climax (even in row 8) that spontaneous applause erupted, sparingly, through the house, enough for him to turn and quip -'Fortunately, that's only one dead - two to go!' - either to remind people that no, it wasn't over yet, or more likely in the rush of the strong audience connection.

That's the second good American conductor with an interest in opera (Gaffigan is MD in Lucerne) I've heard here this year. The other was Andrew Litton (Rosenkavalier for OA).

(*) Maybe two and a half if Tobias Breider's viola solo was a first.


David said...

Two very fine performers - you're not short of them there (what fun, the comment from Gaffigan). And I like the prospect of what Alex Briger's up to with the new orchestra - that would almost be worth coming over for.

Will never forget Khachatryan pulling the entire Albert Hall in to his world with a Bach encore at the Proms. One of the most magical things I've ever heard there.

wanderer said...

Yes, 'into his world' sums it up pretty well. Introspection was the order indeed.

The Briger exercise is exciting (though not selling all that well to date as far as I can see) exploiting the northern mid-summer break I suppose. Fingers crossed.

And when did you last hear Pineapple Poll (let alone see it danced) ?!

David said...

Have been communicating with Alex in a campaign to try and get the whole Pineapple Poll performed at the Proms - no word from Roger Wright as yet on this.

AB conducted the opening movement in the Festival Hall tribute to his great uncle. I did see the ballet (Cranko choreography, wasn't it? ) done by Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet some years ago. The dancing seemed weaker than the music.