Wednesday, June 13, 2012

From Jazz to Tchaikovsky

I am listening to The Thing play their album "Mono" on my iPod. I suppose I should really say something about it but anything I say will probably be along the lines of "It sounds a bit jazzy and forward thinking, with a lot of distraught parping", not really the kind of thing that would get me a spot as a guest-reviewer in Jazz Express. Likewise for the record I have by Tim Berne's Snake Oil (which is called Snake Oil). So maybe I will skip on to something else. Like my recent visit to the National Concert Hall.

I was there with my beloved and another mysterious lady for a performance of a number of pieces by the RTE National Symphony Orchestra. First up were some excepts from Swan Lake by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Everyone knows this music to at least some extent, with the music used for the grand finale being particularly famous now thanks to popular film The Black Swan. So I will not bother saying too much about. However, I was struck by a short interlude of quiet and peaceful music just before the end - not so much the music itself, but what it reminded me of, which was one of those special moments you get in songs by SCOOTER, where it all goes quiet and you imagine that you are at some monster rave and everyone is hands in the air, feeling the vibe, and then HP Baxter comes in with a "Yeah" and the beats kick in again and everyone goes mental. Well, HP Baxter did not come in with a "Yeah" in the National Concert Hall but the sudden return to the loud music of the finale was nevertheless a bit reminiscent of Germany's finest.

Then there was the world premiere of a piece called The Binding of the Years, by Irish/Northern Irish composer Deirdre Gribbin. I am not familiar with Ms Gribbin and her work, but the piece she composed was both interesting and entertaining. It was based on some kind of funny religious practice thing they had in the empire of the Aztecs. It was all a bit discordant (in a good way, obv.), calling to my mind The Rite of Spring without at any time sounding like it. Ms Gribbin received some enthusiastic applause from the audience (unlike the other composers on the bill she is still alive and thus able to take her bows) and I was happy that great contemporary music was being performed on the main stage of the concert hall, on a prime music night.

Third on the bill was Leos Janácek's 1926 Sinfonietta. It is a five movement piece, with each bit having something to recommend itself before they all join together in the grand finale. For spectacle, the first 'Allegretto' piece was hard to beat, with a row of brass instruments up in the choir balcony blasting out a fanfare to us. This sounded almost proto-Laibach to me, for all that the Slovenian sensations are maybe more associated with percussion than wind. The brass sat out the second movement, which to me seemed almost like proto-minimalism - there were parts of it that could easily have been passed off as work by Philip Glass or Steve Reich. The fourth movement actually sounded familiar - it relied heavily on the brass again, though not as relentlessly as the first movement, and after racking my brains I worked out where I heard it before - when I was a little lad, it used to be the theme music for Crown Court, the TV programme where scripted court cases were acted out before an actual jury taken from the general public. And then at the very end, the mass brass attack was back and everyone played at once, very exciting.

Janácek is someone I often think of engaging more with. I have a great CD of some string quartet music he did, acquired as a souvenir on a trip to Prague. But when I more recently acquired a recording of his Glagolithic Mass I had to conclude that it was a bit boring and I gave it away. This Sinfonietta, though, it was all that.

And then to the reason why we had come along - a performance of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. This piece of popular schlock appealed to us because of its connections with our reading War & Peace a chapter a day in this 200th anniversary year of Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Sadly this was not one of those productions were the orchestra dress up as members of the Imperial Guard, the conductor is Napoleon, and they have actual cannons blasting out when things get a bit rorty snorty towards the end, but it was still all very exciting. I gather that Tchaikovsky himself hated the Overture and the notes give the impression that it is not really held in that high regard by advanced lovers of music, but the audience lapped it up and I think even the musicians enjoyed playing it. Top marks also to conductor Alan Buribayev.

In real "ME AM BRANE" action, I would also like to mention the pianist Finghin Collins, who was very memorable, except that I cannot remember which of the four pieces he played on. I should take better notes.

An inuit panda production


Lisa said...

Continuing the theme of my recent comments, I also played in orchestra as a tiny with Finghin Collins.

Janacek is awesome, the Sinfonietta is great stuff altogether. Though I am a total sucker for anything with loads of brass.

ian said...

I may have been in primary school with Finghin Collins's sister (who is also a musician). Or maybe I am thinking of someone else.