Thursday, September 25, 2008

In which Jess finally 'gets' RVW

He did it. Vlad, that is. He has finally convinced me that the fuss about Vaughan Williams is, well, right. He and the LPO opened the concert with RVW's Symphony No.8, a work that is infrequently scheduled and that I hadn't encountered before. Amazing. The imagination. The humanity. The textures. The string chorus of the slow movement and its cello solo (meet the LPO's new lead cello, Kristina Blaumane of Latvia - a phenomenon in her own right). You win, folks, I believe it all now.

It was gratifying to see that, with a programme entirely of 20th century music, including words such as 'world premiere', 'Mark-Anthony Turnage' and 'Ligeti', the place was packed. Turnage's new violin concerto was quite a jolly affair, with much spirited duetting between Tetzlaff the Terrific and the hyperactive percussion section. The Ligeti Atmospheres segued straight into the Stravinsky. I find Atmospheres highly effective, indeed hypnotic, but I won't repeat what my resident violinist says about playing it. The Rite of Spring was an unusual interpretation: instead of con-belto-a-la-Gergiev, Vladimir gave a taut, controlled, rather restrained performance that accentuated what lyricism the score contains and only let rip at the real climaxes. It was tight, disturbing, claustrophobic. I wasn't sure whether the swarm of people on their feet at the end was a standing ovation or a terrified rush for the fresh air (a bit of both, maybe...).

The Rite of Spring is a continual mystery and fascination to me. I researched its origins once for a piece in BBC Music Magazine, convinced that the whole idea came from the artist Nicholas Roerich who designed the first production; after all, nobody can prove or disprove the dream that Stravinsky claims to have had of the ritual sacrifice? But even if the scenario is indeed Roerich's, that doesn't explain what induced Stravinsky to write the music as it is. It is light years away from The Firebird, despite a gap of only several years; as far as I am aware, there was nothing remotely similar in existence in 1911-13; and the more I hear it, the more miraculous it seems that anybody could ever have conceived and written down a thing like this.

Heading home, we bumped into our friend from the LSO on the train. I have never seen anyone look so knackered. The causes deserve an exploration of their own...