Sunday, October 12, 2008

Arrival of the mini-maestro

If you were my height, you'd know that finding someone who's shorter than you is always a delight, and watching them achieve artistic marvels is even better. So, meet my new favourite find, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the pint-sized principal conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic and now also the principal guest conductor of the LPO. He's lovely. He's terrific. He's tiny.

Yannick took up his London podium the other night and did a fine job of steering the orchestra through its backing to the not-inconsiderable antics of Christian Lindberg, Swedish trombonist par excellence. Lindberg's performance in a concerto by Sandstrom based on Don Quixote required him not only to play the instrument but also to execute some superb balletic sautés, shout in Spanish, sing very loudly and strip down to his, er, leopard-spotted leggings. Blimey, guv. Lindberg also transformed a Leopold Mozart rarity from what could have been computer-generated multipurposeclassicaltwaddle to a jewelled butterfly of sweetness.

Topping and tailing the Swedish showstopper were two wonderful Ravellian warhorses, La Valse to start and his orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition to close.

Yannick is a joy to watch: he moves with grace, enthusiasm and eloquence, the band appears able to follow his beat and he'd memorised Pictures to perfection. There'll be lots to look forward to from him in future. Yet...

...I couldn't help missing Vladimir in the Mussorgsky. I don't need to tell you, dear readers, that Mussorgsky is one of the darkest of all self-destructive Russian romantics and that there is a demoniac quality to those pictures - the horrible ox-cart with its drunken driver, the disgusting antisemitism of the wheedling trumpet solo, the witch herself flying from the chicken-legged hut...and the towering Great Gate of Kiev is an idealised vision of something that never matched up to its plan (I've seen the real thing, and it is quite sad by comparison). But the other night we enjoyed a sort of musical stroll through the National Gallery's impressionism section, relaxed and very colourful, but not remotely disturbing. I could nearly taste the choc-ice. It was nice. Very nice. Too nice.

One final moment to remember: our own Tomcat, not being required for the Leopold Mozart, was backstage munching a sandwich, lost track of the time and wasn't quite expecting to see the orchestral manager hunting for him with a cattle prod. He ended up receiving a round of applause to himself before the Sandstrom began.