Friday, November 26, 2010

Andre, a mullet and undone criticism

Amidst all the debate about the talents that Andre Rieu may or may not have (including a vigorous discussion on Angel Trumpets here), I see that Wikipedia has – as usual – put together a fairly balanced article covering both sides of the argument.  Check it here.  This has obviously taken some serious vigilance on the part of the pro-Andre camp, as the history tab shows a huge number of entries that can be best summed up as:

(Criticism Of Rieu) (undo)

Amidst the reams of undone criticisms there’s a few gems, like:

Rieu tries to compensate for his utter lack of a unique playing style by selling over-commercialized versions of classical music to his unsuspecting fans.

Many argue his audiences must be paid to endure his concerts as no one in their right mind would ever pay money to hear his rendition of Frank Sinatra's "My Way."

and even more extraordinary:

He also made a brief, pathetic and random cameo on the show Neighbours.

Perhaps even more incredible is the fact that the Wiki article retains the following:

Rieu sports a hairstyle colloquially referred to as a mullet.

Amazing to think that his legions of fans are happy to cop that, but there you go.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Brahms and sudoku

Orchestra programming generally takes in a number of different pieces and composers, albeit often with a common theme, presumably to ensure that everyone goes away happy with at least some of the evening, if not all of it.  This weekend’s ASO concert was limited to just two pieces – Brahms’ Piano Concerto No 2 and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherezade (RSI = 1.3).  Two disparate pieces – one a serious undertaking by one of the three Bs (that’s Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, the three Bs of German music, as opposed to Bagwell, Biggio and Berkman, the killer Bs of the Houston Astros), the other a 45 minute musical rendition of a fairy tale.image

Everything about the Brahms was restrained – the pianist, the orchestra and eventually the audience, who in turn gave it a fairly restrained reception (although enough to coax a very pleasant Mozart encore).  Certainly herself got the fidgets within two minutes of the start, and deeply regretted not having bought a program, which would have given her something to read.  Happily there wasn’t a sudoku or crossword within easy reach.

After the break, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherezade proved to be a complete contrast, with the orchestra ripping into the piece with a great deal of verve.  The solo violin passages were as good as anything I’ve heard in a long time.  It’s not often that you get to hear a bassoon solo – Bill Bailey (in his Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra) postulates that as no-one ever seems to hear them, the bassoonists are in fact surreptitiously playing Bee Gees songs.  Not on this occasion, as the principal bassoonist made full use of his time in the spotlight that Sheherezade offers him.  This was terrific stuff and made the evening quite memorable.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sydney Symphony–boos for Gershwin?

When preparing the repertoire safety index for the 2011 season, I was really struck by the low scores for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.  Australia’s premiere orchestra, premiere concert hall and most famous conductor, with a program loaded to the gills with rolled gold classics from Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky etc.  Hardly surprising that they come in a distant 5th, ahead of the Tasmania and Queensland orchestras.  I’m a bit jealous of course – there’s just so much must-see music in their program – but it does seem  a bit odd that there’s not a bit more adventurous programming, including of course works from our own contemporary composers (of which there’s very little).

It was therefore interesting to read an article in the Australian about Michael Kieran Harvey playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue at the Sydney Opera House – and drawing boos from the audience for his freewheeling improvisation of Gershwin’s music:

The point was that [conductor] Kristjan Jarvi encouraged me to improvise and some in the audience considered it a travesty.

It was hilarious to me that people would care so much," Harvey says, although the response clearly hit a nerve. It's something he returns to twice again during our conversation. "It was surprising to me when it was so obvious that it was in the spirit of improvised music. It was done in the spirit of the jazz piece. At the heart of jazz is interpretation. Even so, we still have this dreadful conservatism about how we expect music to sound.

Improvising Gershwin – the problem is?  One of the reasons he was able to write Rhapsody in Blue in just 3 weeks (it was a commission with a serious deadline!) was by not writing the piano solo parts.  As Gershwin himself played the piano when the piece was premiered, he simply improvised the solo parts and nodded to the conductor when he’d had enough.  After the concert he was then able to write down what he’d just played.  So, if improvisation on this piece isn’t acceptable, is there any place where it is?  Apparently not – not in Sydney at any rate!

Just for the record I got to see the same pair performing Rhapsody in Blue at the Adelaide Town Hall with the ASO – a brilliant performance hugely appreciated by the sell out crowd. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bach/Busoni and Schumann

Some strange trademarking issues going on here.  Busoni made a bit of a name for himself transcribing old Bach pieces into piano, the pieces subsequently being known as “Bach-Busoni (whatever)”, in this case the Bach – Busoni Chaconne.  Not really sure why it wasn’t Bach’s Chaconne (arr. Busoni).  Where were the lawyers representing Bach’s estate?  At any rate it was quite an interesting piece (Leonie Horvat, Recitals Australia lunchtime recital).

Couldn’t quite say the same about Schumann’s Piano Sonata in G Minor Op.22.  While Horvat did an excellent job with what seems like very demanding material, it reminded me a bit of Schumann’s Etudes which Coady Green played at an RA recital in September – namely quite challenging to listen to, and no doubt to play.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Repertoire Safety Index – 2011 Programs

The results are in for the Repertoire Safety Index for 2011 (including the SSO, which finally made a copy of its 2011 program available to download in pdf format).  No surprises in terms of who has the highest score – the ACO weighs in at 6.0, well out in front of the second place, which is the ASO on 4.2. 

One thing which shouldn’t have surprised but did was the result for the MSO.  After reading Melbourne-based music writer Eamonn Kelly’s drivel concerning the need for the ASO to offer a “safer” repertoire to keep its older audiences interested, I had a quick look at the MSO 2011 program,  and was a bit confused about how a program offering so much Mozart and Tchaikovsky could be deemed to be “adventurous”.  Hence the birth of the repertoire safety index, in an effort to put some objectivity around the issue of which orchestral programs are safer than others….and this what we got for 2011:

aco2 6.0
ASO2011 4.2
mso 4.0
waso 3.8
image 3.5
tso 3.3
qso 3.0

it’s worth noting that the “adventurous” MSO did manage a podium finish, sneaking into 3rd place.  They do boast one very high scoring concert (featuring Tippett, Vaughan Williams and Walton, scoring 7.3) but this is offset by a lot of very safe concerts scoring in the 2s and 3s, and one which scores zero (an all Mozart affair).  In contrast there’s only one ACO concert with a score below 4 (Schubert, Bach, Stravinsky and Webern, at 3.5), with almost everything in the 6s and 7s.

Just for the record, although the QSO trails the field with a score of just 3.0, it also offers one of the most adventurous individual concerts of the year,with a program of Gershwin, Gulda and Prokofiev, scoring 8.0.

One aspect of this that needs more thought is the result for the Sydney Symphony.  More on this later.