Showing posts with label Royal Festival Hall. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Royal Festival Hall. Show all posts

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday Historical: Horowitz Live in London



This is Vladimir Horowitz's second-last recital in London, filmed live at the Royal Festival Hall in May 1982 (the last one was a week later. Thanks to my pianophile-in-chief consultant for the correction). He was not a well man by then, and apparently was on much medication, but the old magic is alive and well despite some slips; listen to the tone, the voicing, the variety of imagination, and a Polonaise-Fantaisie that certainly draws the tears from fanatics like me... And the way he plays the national anthem at the outset is a sliver of piano genius in itself, though this audience of 31 years ago stands to attention and doesn't applaud. (Prince Charles and co are in the royal box, not looking their most comfortable ever...).

The concert hall, which we see at the start, stands in grim concrete isolation in a lifeless area. It's a bit different today, happily.

The programme is:

Part I

01. God Save The Queen
02. Scarlatti Sonata in A flat major K127
03. Scarlatti Sonata in F minor K466
04. Scarlatti Sonata in F minor K184
05. Scarlatti Sonata in A major K101
06. Scarlatti Sonata in B minor K87
07. Scarlatti Sonata in E major K135
08. Chopin Polonaise-Fantaisie Op.61
09. Chopin Ballade No.1 Op.23
10. Horowitz talks about himself

Part II

01. Schumann Kinderszenen Op.15
02. Rachmaninov Piano Sonata No.2 Op.36
03. Chopin Waltz Op.69-1
04. Rachmaninov Polka de W.R.
05. Scriabin Etude Op.8-12

Friday, February 01, 2013

Lutoslawski lives

The other night Krystian Zimerman lifted the score of Lutoslawski's Piano Concerto off the RFH Steinway and kissed it. But by then it was the London public that was really taking the piece to their hearts. It couldn't have had better advocates. Zimerman's playing offered all its characteristic meld of white-hot power and molten-gold touch - the sound for which this work was originally conceived - and Salonen, himself a composer, naturally sculpts a work's structure into clear lines, allowing it to stand out in vivid 3D.

The concerto, though, seems to operate in more than three dimensions. It's in four sections, played without a break and, throughout, Lutoslawski's control of timbre, his imagination for the most minute touches of colour - flecks between woodwind and percussion echoed high on the piano, or the terse, secretive, scurrying chaconne idea on the double basses that opens the last section - provides a unique "finish" on top of his strong architecture and the considerable flair he demands in the solo part.

Some of the magnificent piano writing resembles a giant fantasy on Scriabin or Liszt; at other times it puts one in mind of Bartok's 'Night Music', echoes of strange creatures from invisible corners. Above all, its vision has integrity, its form offers an entirely personal twist on the tradition and its voice - whooshing the concerto concept into the late 20th century, hands first - should assure it a place in the standard repertoire from now on. It's not easy listening - whoever said listening should be easy in any case? - but the better you know it, the better if gets.

As for Lutoslawski's comment that the piece is "very playable" because, as a pianist himself, he wrote it to be so...that might seem amusing to anyone peering over at the antheap of notes assigned to the soloist. But I'm reliably assured (by Zimerman) that the bits that sound difficult are not in fact the hardest to play. He is, incidentally, in marvellous form.(And no, he didn't bring his own piano this time - apparently this concerto, written to be played on a modern concert grand, doesn't need anything more.)

Where next for the contemporary piano concerto? Ligeti's is a favourite of mine - if I'd been a real pianist it would have been top of my liszt. What a pity it is that, as we hear on the grapevine, certain efforts to persuade him to write another, bigger one didn't come to fruition. James MacMillan's concerti and the two by Lowell Liebermann have both fared well, not least thanks to the ballet world - the Royal Ballet whiz-kid Liam Scarlett has now choreographed both of the latter's. But what the rapturous reception for the Lutoslawski seems to prove is that the form is far from exhausted, the notion of it anything but dead, and there's an excitement out there that's ready to celebrate exploration and adventure within a familiar genre.

The mixture of The Rest is Noise, The Minotaur, Lutoslawski's centenary and adventurous individuals advocating the new, strong and creative - notably Kasper Holten at Covent Garden - already seems to be transforming public appetite for recent music and fresh masterpieces to succeed it. I'm sure I wasn't the only one to experience an epiphany over Boulez at the Proms last summer, thanks to Barenboim. New and recent music needs great performances to win new and thriving audiences. On Wednesday night, Lutoslawski got one. Here's to many, many more.



Saturday, January 12, 2013

CALLEJA!

[NB: Tenor rave alert. If you don't like tenor raves, look away now.]

 

If Pavarotti had been making his Royal Festival Hall recital debut, you'd want to be there, and later you'd want to know you had been there, even if it was one of those multi-lollipop Gubbay gigs, and you'd go. And it might have sounded a bit like Joseph Calleja did last night. I've heard of great voices, but this is ridiculous.

A friend wrote to me afterwards wanting to know whether he projected OK in the RFH, which can be a tricky acoustic for voices. Projected? If they'd opened the doors, you'd have heard him all the way from Crystal Palace to Kenwood.

Take several thousand volts of personality, a tone so focused and powerful that it can flatten you in two notes, a technique so strong that you'd like to make musical instrument cases out of it, and the effortless confidence to convey passion for music and singing in a truly universal way - and that might just be the biggest opera star of the next few decades grinning at you off the platform.

You know how much I love Jonas Kaufmann and Juan Diego Florez, of course, and to think that we're lucky enough to have all these guys around to hear at the moment is gratitude-inspiring. Different types of voice, different kinds of personality, different purposes, different fates, all miraculous to hear. For a few minutes in the first half, with the Puccini arias from Tosca and the Flower Song from Carmen, I nearly dared to miss Kaufmann's subtlety, the emotional darkness, the variety of colour. Calleja is 50-degree Maltese sunshine all the way.

Yet the shadows were soon gone. Do we love him? Oh boy, do we love him. A bit of Mascagni, a spot of Verdi and some delicious Mario Lanza numbers by Brodszky, and the Golden Age of Singing is alive and well and sipping the conductor's bubbly for the 'Brindisi' final encore.

Spare a thought for the guest soprano, Indra Thomas - fortunate to share a platform with him, but unfortunate in that her vocal technique is nowhere near as strong as his, despite a lovely tone quality at its best in "Pace, pace mio dio" from La forza del destino (as usual, "the best is the enemy of the vaguely OK"). She seemed thoroughly caught up in the enchantment of Calleja's stagecraft, though, as he led her purposefully out of sight for the last phrase of 'O Soave Fanciulla', and who can blame her? The Philharmonia fizzed away happily under the baton of Andrew Greenwood and the evening flew by in a whirl of heady delights and Italianate winter sparkle.

You can follow Calleja on Twitter, where he is @MalteseTenor and describes himself as
"Maltaholic, opera singer, father to a princess and terminator, fly fishing enthusiast and St Emilion fanatic." And he blogs about life on the singing superhighway, here.

Above, hear "Joe" singing the title track from his Mario Lanza tribute album, Be my Love. Be warned, though, that listening to Calleja on disc is a little like watching a Wimbledon final on TV. You appreciate some of the marvels - but to grasp the full power of it, you need to be there...  




Thursday, September 20, 2007

They're back!

UPDATE: VIEW THIS CONCERT ON MEDICI ARTS TV RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW! ONLINE UNTIL 30 OCTOBER 2007

The smiles shone right across London last night as the London Philharmonic returned proudly to the spanking, newly refurbished Royal Festival Hall with a spanking [not literally], new principal conductor, Vladimir Jurowski, for the opening night of the new season, which celebrates the band's 75th birthday. And it's full steam ahead.

After 21 years on board the LPO, Tom declares that this is the best time he can remember. Managers, musicians and family members in the audience talk about a sense of renaissance. Glamour and excitement - at the Southbank Centre? Yes, at last it's all there. I'm still adjusting to the remarkable fact that near the back of the rear stalls, I could hear every detail of the music as clearly as if through iPod headphones. More good news: last night's concert was filmed for release on DVD and it will appear in due course on the recently founded Medici label. [update: watch it online free now, until 30 October.]

In yesterday's Indy, Ed Seckerson had this interesting interview with Vlad. Extract:

"For the LPO, the Jurowski era begins with a programme that starts as he means to go on: Wagner's Parsifal Prelude; Berg's Three Orchestral Pieces; and the original version of Mahler's astonishing Das klagende Lied. That's not a programme, that's a manifesto. Indeed, such is the inventiveness and originality of Jurowski's programming in his first season that, for the first time in perhaps a decade, we can predict the unpredictable on the South Bank."


Yes indeed. It was clear from this selection that easy listening ain't the order of the day (and admittedly the hall wasn't as packed as it might have been without that killer word "Berg"), but the electricity and commitment flowing from the platform suggest that an ideal is gathering pace here. With musicianship like Vladimir's at stake, and the inspiration he's bringing to the orchestra, they should soon have the audience eating out of their hands. People will come to hear them no matter what they do, because there'll be trust; everything will be worth experiencing. This was only the beginning.

And as the work of an 18-year-old, the Mahler wasn't bad...

Monday will be the opening night at the LSO over at the Barbican, with Gergiev conducting Mahler 3, and meanwhile I'm on tenterhooks as to whether I may squeeze into a Wagner dress rehearsal at Covent Garden next week. On balance, France with its sunshine, sea and Provencal markets looks more attractive than grey old Blighty, but musical life like this only exists in London. So there is nowhere else to be.

UPDATE: Medici-Arts TV also has webstreamed concerts from this year's Verbier Festival, available to view online until 30 September. I intended to flag this up earlier, but when I tried to log on, the streaming quality was turning Thomas Quasthoff singing Schubert into something of which Stockhausen could scarcely have dreamed...in retrospect, this was probably my computer's fault rather than theirs. Give it a whirl while you can. And the LPO thing seems to be working perfectly.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Wham!

It's The Firebird, it's the Royal Festival Hall, and I nearly fall out of my seat. It's loud. It's clear. You can hear the harp from the back row of the rear stalls. Some of the players used to describe the RFH acoustic as 'pigeon hitting wall'. Now the pigeon bites back.

The dear old place looks more or less the same inside, with some crucial differences - a bigger stage, more acoustical aids, less carpet; there's a tad more leg room in the rows and each seat is equipped with a little metal ring for holding your drink (assuming they decide to let the audience take some in). The foyers are magnificently open and glassy, the spaces giving maximum light and making the most of the river views; the bars and the new-look first-floor restaurant are sleeker and shinier; and mercifully, we're told, there are twice as many ladies' loos as before.

If there's a downside to the acoustic, it's that while every note of the celesta can be heard bright and clear, so can every cough, rustle of sweet paper, watch alarm, hearing aid and mobile phone. Two seconds into The Firebird, a mobile phone playing Mozart's 40th rang out across the double basses. Vladimir Jurowski called a halt...such is life...

Musically the evening was a mixed bag: I suspect that it was too worthy for its own financial aims. I'm mystified as to how anyone could programme world premieres by Julian Anderson and Harrison Birtwistle, load the programme up with Ligeti and Ives, and expect people to fork out £500 for a ticket. If you charge those prices, you have at least to pull some rabbits out of some hats, or at least a Gheorghiu or Terfel or Kissin or two (the biggest wigs last night were the three conductors, none of whom is a household name, though Vladimir will be soon). Maxim Vengerov was in the audience. He should have been on the platform and on the publicity. People with big money like big stars.

The Anderson will no doubt be praised to the skies (and already is in today's Independent), but it struck me as typical establishment-approved modernism with vaguely poncy establishment religious connotations ('Alleluja', all right, already) that wasn't celebratory, interesting, inspired or original and fulfilled no function greater than Parry's 'I was glad', which would have done the trick better last night. The Birtwistle was a reworking of a funeral lament that he wrote in memory of Michael Vyner (former chief of the London Sinfonietta) 18 years ago - which has its place, but surely not in a celebratory reopening concert? Birtwistle's place in our house is in the kitchen: we have a Glyndebourne fridge magnet of him. It's usually upside down, and is very useful for holding shopping lists.

Ligeti and Ives, while more interesting, still tend to scare people away from buying expensive tickets. And after imbibing as much champagne as you can swallow in 20 minutes, does anyone really want to listen to pootly Purcell? Oh dear. Still, Ravel's Bolero, played by representatives of all four resident orchestras - the LPO, the Philharmonia, the London Sinfonietta and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, around 120 players, with Marin Alsop having a great time on the podium - did indeed raise the roof as the grand finale, and Richard Morrison notes in today's Times that the sound in the last movement of Beethoven 9 (given with its original words this time) made the lights flicker.

Afterwards there was an extremely glittery party in and around the ballroom, and the champagne continued to flow...It's fantastic that the arrival of the nearest thing we now have to a world-class concert hall should be seen in with such a tremendous celebration. There's no doubt that it's certainly become a world-class venue. The weeks ahead will say more about the sound.

UPDATE, 13 June 8.36am: 'Mad props' to Vanessa Thorpe from (gasp) The Guardian for linking here. She was sitting next to the owner of the errant mobile...

Monday, June 11, 2007

Meanwhile back at the ranch...


While I was pottering over the bridge in Mostar, the Royal Festival Hall opened its doors at last after its snazzy refurbishment. It's taken two years of building work and some two decades of blundering beforehand; now they're doing nothing by halves. From Friday evening until yesterday there was a grand jamboree of free music and dance inside and outside the venue. Billy Bragg led a festival of mass busking and wrote some new words for the finale of Beethoven 9; a floating chorus took to the waters of the Thames; dancing both Bollywood and ballroom was on display; 2500 school kids were involved; and 18,000 performers in all. Unfortunately I missed the lot, but going to Mostar was my own decision and in any case there's plenty more to come.

Tonight, for example. The grand first night gala: a concert in three parts with all the resident orchestras (they'll play together for the first time), two world premieres - Julian Anderson and the ubiquitous Birtwistle - plus a big party in the ballroom afterwards. Dress code is given as "to celebrate" and there'll be wall-to-wall champagne. It looks sure to be a night to remember. The big question: purple silk or sea-green linen? Either way, the tango shoes will be shown off... A full report on the state of the place will follow in due course. And from now on it's business as usual at the RFH: the LPO's first real concert is on Wednesday, with Vladimir Jurowski conducting and Imogen Cooper playing the Mozart D minor Piano Concerto; and on Thursday, the inimitable Brendel is giving a recital. Speaking of Vladimir, here's Richard Morrison's interview with our favourite resident maestro from The Times the other day.

It's going to seem weird after experiencing the Mostar opera premiere the other day, in a little theatre covered in a smallpox rash of shelling damage.