Friday, February 10, 2006

Rattle and hum

It was the kind of evening that reaffirms your faith in concerts. Simon Rattle conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. Alfred Brendel on piano. The first half pleasant enough - Piano Concerto no. 27 K.595 - that exquisite second movement, and the tum-di-tum-di-tum, ta-da-tum-da-tum-ta-da-da of the third which is pure Mozart [1]. Rattle seemed a little out of it here, like a man getting used to a limousine after long hours at the wheel of his BMW sports car, but Brendel was as exact as ever, his playing making Mozart look as easy as he sounds, the notes so sharply defined that every tiny nuance, every tongue in cheek little variation came through as clear as crystal. Beautiful.

The real pleasure, though, was the second half. Rattle conducting Walton's Symphony No. 1 in B-flat minor. Such a pleasant change from the plague of Mozart's 39, 40 and 41st going around [2] (see this piece in the NY Times - John Eliot Gardiner, Lorin Maazel and Daniel Barenboim - all playing the same thing). Rattle really came into his own here, and that rich, full sound of the Orchestra got a proper airing. The Walton itself was a delightful surprise - I'd never heard the piece before, and it turned out to be much, much better than I expected. How can you not love a composer who marks his second movement Presto con malizia (Very fast, with malice) and pulls of a scherzo that sounds like a busy intersection of musical ideas, with Rattle as the deftest of traffic wardens, keeping the themes from getting all snarled up. It was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud in sheer glee.

All in all, a wonderful performance.

It was also the kind of evening that destroys what little faith you have in other people's right to go on breathing. With my usual skill at acquiring the worst seat in the auditorium [3], I found myself sandwiched between: a) two nitwits on my left, one of whom kept gushing about how Mozart was so young when he wrote all this great music (he was 35 when he wrote K 595 and would die a few months after completing it), prompting the other to talk loudly about that other great musical genius (shudder!) Barbara Streisand!! and b) one of those irritating twenty-something couples who are more interested in each other than in the music. Or at least the guy was. Why do women do this? Especially women who seem to have decent taste otherwise? Why do they insist on dragging guys who clearly don't give a damn about music and only want to sleep with them to concerts? As though listening to Mozart were some kind of tax. So you'll have this guy who's somehow managed to fit a tie around his neck and is clearly uncomfortable as hell and divides his time between: trying to get the girl's attention by fingering her, nuzzling her, whispering in her ear, etc; shifting his position in his seat some 2,6790 times (in the first movement alone) and trying to see how many different sounds you can make by crinkling the program. I mean really. If you want to attend a concert and have a boyfriend who couldn't tell Schubert from Snoop Dogg, please, PLEASE have sex with him beforehand and leave him at home to watch basketball in his underwear. Don't bring him along to the performance and put him in the seat next to ME!


[1] (shamefacedly) I have to admit I've never been able to keep all these third movements of Mozart's piano concertos seperate in my head. I love all of them, but ask me to pick one from the other and I couldn't tell my Concerto 15 from my Concerto 23 (obviously Piano Concerto 20 is an exception to this).

[2] And there, ladies and gentlemen, you have a classic case of sour grapes.

[3] When I bought a season subscription to the orchestra I had this fond vision of finding the seat next to mine taken by some gorgeous young woman also on a season ticket (no, Neela, not you, the seat on the OTHER side). We would spend the first season without saying a word to each other. The second season we would exchange pleasantries, maybe talk about the music a little. By the third season, we would be going out together after every concert, and a few times in between. By the fourth season, I would actually have my thesis done (another foolish dream) but would stick around to attend the last concert with her before going away. That last time around the orchestra would play Brahms Third Symphony and there would be tears in our eyes as we said goodbye forever, knowing we would never be able to erase the memory of each other from the music[4]. Instead, of course, I end up with the audience mates from hell. And a noisy hell at that. More evidence that my life is a joke.

[4] Obviously, since it involved me and a woman, this fantasy wasn't going to end happily. I may be delusional, but I have some respect for the fundamental laws of life.

Categories: ,

No comments: