March 31, 2011

A Musical Education, Part III

Returning again to the Berliner Philharmoniker, I couldn’t help feeling that something was up. This was a night of debuts – young men emerging from a youth spent practicing – and it was full, like them, of promise. Yet further to my prior assertion that casualness in appearance breeds casualness in performance, last night offered some kind of proof.

I do not wish to detract from the the young soloists, for although the are already a long way down a path to greatness, they are nevertheless young. With youth comes the expectation of a certain attitude. Adrien Boisseau, but twenty years old (he looks a mere fifteen), chopped at his viola as if it were an electric guitar, and he a rock god. Perhaps Leo Smit, whose concerto for viola and string orchestra he attacked, would have approved. Inevitably, control was a tricky proposition for the more serene notes. The other debutant was Pierre Génisson, a mid-twenties clarinetist from Marseille, who cut the figure of a man looking for a jazz dive, unexpectedly finding himself in front of a symphony orchestra. With swagger, he seemed to shrug, and turned out Debussy’s première rhapsodie with impressionistic aplomb. The instrument occasionally got lost in Max Bruch’s concerto for clarinet, viola and orchestra in E minor, played into Génisson’s feet in a soundscape that lacked balance.

Pierre Génisson
Adrien Boisseau
The detractions of this evening were twofold. First, the audience (as usual); second, the orchestra (but it was the audience’s fault). Up in the gods, a large group of adolescents whispered and giggled throughout the concert. Although some distance from me, their twitterings were perfectly audible and distracting. The lengths to which concert-hall designers go to make sound travel behoove us to shut up and listen, lest our own sound travels. This rudeness was heightened at a pause between movements, during which a cacophany of coughing rang out. These pauses are the appointed time for the clearing of the throat, but it is not mandatory! The opportunity to stamp their presence on the evening appealed to the assembled youth, who extended their spluttering for a full minute, causing giggles and mutterings throughout the hall. The young maestro, Krzysztof Urbański, stood, arms aloft, waiting patiently for the audience to button it. You could see the orchestra rolling its collective eyes and wishing the stage would swallow them up.

This lack of respect clearly affected the musicians. The final piece, Richard Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, a difficult composition, seemed at times to overtax some parts of the distracted orchestra. I am often given to wonder if concert musicians hate the people who pay their salaries. After all, they turn up in white tie for a formal event, and a bunch of teenagers, amongst others, turn up to watch (for they fail to listen) in what barely passes for streetwear. The incongruity of the whole affair was made more stark by the appearance of the compère, looking for all the world as if he’d come straight from another job as a football pundit: sack-jacket black worsted suit with belted, low-slung trousers, a greenish shirt and loud orange-striped tie. It was just as well that I couldn’t really understand this man, for I wouldn’t have listened in any case. The room exuded a casualness that was totally inappropriate for the event, and I think it took its toll. My companion and I tried our best to rise above, remaining serious and attentive. But seriousness and attentiveness, when things are not as they should be, only make one more aware of the lack of those qualities in one’s midst. It was a shame, for there was here on display a sense of what seriousness can achieve when admixed with diligence and talent. The example of young virtuoisity was, I fear, largely lost on the examples of young concert goers.

1 comment:

  1. I hope that your cold has cleared up and that you are in the finest of fettle for tomorrow.


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