Monday, February 11, 2013


Vladimir Ashkenazy kicked off his final year as MD and Chief Conductor with the SSO with an interesting if not particularly gala-ish programme of:

Sibelius - Lemminkäinen Suite

Fauré - Pelléas et Mélisande
Debussy - La Mer

It was played in that order although the programme notes made mention that the order of the halves had been originally the reverse. The very raising of the matter suggests some residual uncertainty about the decision. Whatever Mr Ashkenazy's reasoning, I think plan A the better. The Fauré would have made a fine opener, the Debussy, which was the most accomplished playing of the night, would have sent everyone out for drinkies on a big swell, and the Sibelius would have been the main focus for a programme called 'Legends by the Sea - Ashkenazy conducts Sibelius'. Or Legends by the Lake. Or Stay in your Cabins.

While we're talking about reversing the order, episode two of Ashkenazy conducts Sibelius - A Finnish Epic - follows on this week and it seems to me it would have been a fine season opener with the much more gala-ry Kallervo (monumental, imported soloists, male choir, and me busting to hear it live, especially after reading Alex Ross go bananas about it with Vänzkä) and a big rumble with Ravel's left hand concerto.

Anyway, back at the actual gala opening night, playing in reverse. We were well into the second should-have-been first half.  The Debussy was working well. The strings had reached that certain frission they didn't quite manage in the Sibelius (and Sibelius is all about the strings), bowing and swaying through the penultimate bars when, can you believe it,  someone two rows behind got sea sick and started to throw up. Now throwing can be quite off-putting - not only for the victim of the irreversible urge (there's only a few physiological processes that can't be aborted past a certain juncture - vomiting, sneezing, and one other does come to mind) but also for those close by, and trapped close by, whose proximity to the whole unpleasantry risks them joining in. The man directly behind me kept repeating, loudly, like some gormless adolescent - 'ooh it's going all over her dress'.

That music should so emote is the envy of many a conductor. It even made Norman's newsroom.


Susan Scheid said...

The episode you describe recalls to mind, with horror, the ring-tone episode in the NY Phil performance of Mahler's Ninth. You are good to have taken it so well. This sounds like a wonderful program, in whatever order.

What do you think of Alex Ross's reaction to Vanzka et al? Do you agree, or think he oversells? I always like to read him, but sometimes I'm not sure his views aren't informed by the au courant. I know that's probably heresy, and what do I know, after all?

Last, not least, I'm sorry Ashkenazy is leaving you. You know his value and deserve his continued presence. Such is life, I suppose. I look forward to meeting you one day, and perhaps David, too, all taking a look at Mrs. Delany's collages, then a concert of some kind after. Such a lovely dream it is, even if it doesn't come true.

David said...

I've heard some terrible performances by Vanska, especially Sibelius Five, where he hit (or rather punched, in what looked like a bullying style) climaxes in all the wrong places. Will never forgive him for robbing Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle of all atmosphere with the Minnesota Orchestra.

There - I don't like being negative, but I will be trying to give all OV's performances a miss. Never Ashkenazy's, which always seem to have the heart in the right place.

Well. I do hope we resume a two-way dialogue soon, though as you'll have gathered from the messages here, it's not expected.

wanderer said...

Susan - I think Alex Ross very informed and I enjoy reading him, if not religiously. I have his two books (or maybe that's two of), have heard him speak, and briefly met. I like him. If he directs me strongly somewhere, there I'll usually go. I do need all the guidance I can get.

David, I'm on my way. Askenazy's Kullervo was wonderful and I hope they make a CD of it (it was recorded for broadcast). I am jotting some notes for a blog post which might eventuate (no muse for weeks). He was one with this music, had assembled a great team and I was quite transported.

Susan Scheid said...

I am behind in my reading, just beginning to catch up, but wanted to report in on Parsifal (you'll see the same over David's way):

NOW I know what gesamkunst is. I have no basis for comparison, of course, but can report that I found it thrilling. While there is room for difference of opinion on the production itself, our general agreement was that it was thoughtfully done, going for elegance and understatement rather than Broadway razzle-dazzle. For me, the use of choreography throughout was particularly compelling. (Though I would have preferred that the singers were not compelled to walk in red-dyed water throughout Act II . . .)

But that’s only the beginning: the music(!), so ravishingly played and sung (Daniel Gatti conducting), the soloists astonishing: Pape as Gurnemanz was for me, anyway, first among a marvelous cast that included Katarina Dalayman as Kundry (she will be our Brunhilde for the Ring), Jonas Kaufmann as Parsifal and Peter Mattei as Amfortas (we thought Mattei stronger than Kaufmann, but that is not to say we are complaining about the performance Kaufmann turned in). The choral work and orchestral performance were outstanding. After disappointments earlier in the season, we left ecstatic, saying THIS is what it’s about. Now, in April, on to my first Ring.

I will look forward to more from you on Ashkenazy, too!

wanderer said...

Susan, how fantastic it sounds. I envy you seeing it live. Everyone is saying that this production is one for the ages. I really can't wait for it to screen here and that isn't till mid April. I've also made some comments chez David and now I'm starting to lose track of who said what to whom where, which is part of the fun really.

I'm loving your winterwonderlandwhiteout.