November 03, 2011

Pole Dancing

Well, not really dancing. His Excellency, Dr. Marek Prawda, mark the truth, simply tapped his foot. The Polish Ambassador to Germany sat next to Joachim Sauer, the quantum chemist better known for being the husband of Angela Merkel. It was good to know that while the cat was tearing her hair out in Cannes, the mouse was out to play. It gives a sense of normalcy to all the talk of crisis. Sort of like the band playing on while the Titanic went down.

The event, part of a broad programme to mark Poland’s presidency of the EU – something between a poisoned chalice and an empty cup – was a performance by the ‘I, Culture’ Orchestra, made up of bright young things from Poland, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, at the Berlin Philharmoniker. Conducted by Sir Neville Marriner, they fairly charged through Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F minor. Apart from one stripling who appeared, from the way she was coughing into the back of her viola, to have a sharp case of tuberculosis, it was a wholesome affair that gave one a mite of hope that young people might actually turn into fairly decent old people. Indeed, if I hadn’t seen them all smoking outside the stage door afterwards, looking cowed and ill-postured, I would have called them an elegant lot.

Sir Neville, who is ageing gracefully
There was one moment of extraordinary drama. After Arabella Steinbacher had finished chopping into Karol Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1, the chamber emptied for the obligatory interval. Toward the end of this hiatus, before the audience had re-assembled, fully ready to clap in all the wrong places, a hero appeared. Tall, broad-shouldered, with long, dark hair, this gallant fellow appeared on stage clutching a ball-gown clad young bassoonist. The fragile blond, with head thrown back and bosom heaving, completed a picture fit for a Mills & Boon cover. He carried her, over-the-threshold style, across the stage, her broken foot discreetly concealed, before gently lowering her into her seat. She then sat and waited for the rest of the orchestra, for what must have seemed like an age, embarrassed in the manner peculiar to pretty teenagers, but with the scattered audience who had stayed for the break now firmly in her corner.

The performance was rousing; Marriner was respectively exhaustive, exhausting, exhausted. Occasionally someone took the opportunity to shake hands with the dignitaries. I even saw a man click his heels and bow. This venue never ceases to surprise in its anthropological delights.


  1. I smiled when I read this because it reminded me of my four years as the PR manager for a local orchestra, which is about to fold due to bankruptcy and union negotiations gone bad. And I recall cringing when people applauded at the wrong time, yet had to remind myself that at least they're broadening their horizons with a visit to the symphony.

  2. Quite right. I have a feeling that most of the tickets for this event were given away free in order to present the Ambassador with a full house. Hence a lot of newbies getting a first taste. Good for them.


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