Showing posts with label Maxim Vengerov. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Maxim Vengerov. Show all posts

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Fit for purpose

What is fit for purpose in the UK at the moment? Not a lot, but I've found one thing that is. It's a national treasure of a concert hall - in an Essex village state school.

Saffron Hall
Photo: Graham Turner
I'm talking about Saffron Hall, of course, named after its location, not the donor who put up the money to build it - that person, with rare grace, preferred to stay anonymous. And if you go through Saffron Walden, you wouldn't expect to find this venue there. An almost too-adorable antique town in not-too-flat-yet East Anglian countryside, beyond the great house of Audley End, it's a setting in which you'd be less surprised to find a haunted hotel (at the Cross-Keys Inn the ghost of a Civil War soldier is said to walk the corridors, while Cromwell's mistress supposedly lurks in a bedroom) than a shiny four-year-old concert venue haunted by the likes of Maxim Vengerov and Mats Lidström. The good news is that the two notions aren't incompatible.

The hall, in case you haven't seen it yet, seats around 800 and has a wide, shiny, wooden interior with a narrow balcony section that runs all the way round the sides and behind the stage. The acoustic ('tunable') is warm and blooming, ample and resonant. The audience seems still to be in a honeymoon with it - a community blessed with a big asset and the chance to hear Vengerov and friends play right on their doorstep - and it was great to see lots of children in the ranks. The school setting helps. I learned during the course of the evening that the place used not even to offer Music A Level (a tragically increasing situation nowadays), but that music for its pupils and beyond is now thriving thanks to the exemplar of the hall and the world-class events it hosts.

This should be a model for anyone to follow if and when they want to build a new hall: for goodness' sake, embed it in its community. Put it where children will feed it with their energy and enthusiasm and be fed its art in turn. Put it where its audience will be happy, where they will be there to support it, prioritise it and take pride in it. This is high art for everyone and that's exactly what we need, right here and right now. For too long we've fetishised concert halls as a tool of regeneration - sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, and if it does it takes decades - or decided they must multitask as conference venues. It's the kiss of death. You end up with soulless creations in places nobody really wants to go. Try multitasking them within community schools instead. You might be surprised.

Maximum violinist: Maxim Vengerov
And we got a wonderful surprise last night. Maxim Vengerov and friends from the Soloists of the Oxford Philharmonic joined forces for a delicious programme of varied chamber line-ups. First, Brahms violin and piano music with Marios Papadopoulos - more often found on the orchestra's podium - becoming an empathetic duo partner to Vengerov in the D minor Sonata, following an up-tempo, soaring account of the 'FAE' Scherzo. In these days of exaggeration and over-interpretation, Vengerov is a breath of fresh air: he eschews such intrusive trends. He plays that violin with a perfect tone that one can drink up like honeyed mead. He polishes it to the nth degree and displays it without a hint of fuss. He makes all of this look phenomenally easy and natural, which heaven knows it's not.

The second part was a rarely-heard two-movement String Sextet by Borodin and then the Mendelssohn Octet, and here we had a chance to hear some of the Oxford Philharmonic's lead string players. My, oh, my, look who's here: only a line-up to match any top-notch international chamber ensemble and probably beat them on their own turf. Violinists Natalia Lomeiko, Anna-Liisa Bezrodny and Yury Zhislin. Violists Garfield Jackson and Jonathan Barritt. Cellists Mats Lidström and Peter Adams. They're all among the best on the scene, whether established soloists or long-standing members of great string quartets, and with Vengerov as first violin they produced an Octet to remember, almost symphonic in scale (it's amazing how much noise can come out of just eight instruments) and wonderfully conversational. We don't need reminding that it's a masterpiece, but it's a perennial joy to be reunited with Mendelssohn's extraordinary fount of high energy, bowling along as if he simply can't get the ideas down on paper fast enough, so richly do they flow. This was a Maserati of a Mendelssohn rather than a wispy, elfin job, and I had the impression the performers were enjoying every note as much as we were.

I'm quite embarrassed to admit I had no idea any of them were with the Oxford Phil, although in some cases I've known and followed their careers for decades. Perhaps the problem with the word 'Oxford' is that you are conditioned to hearing it alongside another word: 'University'. This is, emphatically, not necessary.

You can hear the same concert tonight at Cheltenham Town Hall if you are lucky enough to be in the area.

Fit for purpose: music, musicians, hall and everything about them. Not fit for purpose: the UK's infrastructure.

I was offered a ticket and a lift to/from Saffron Walden by a friend in the music business who lives near me and has a car. We set off from Hammersmith at 3.30pm. An hour and a quarter later we'd reached...Kilburn. Because if you're sitting in Wood Lane you can't get across the A40 because the traffic blocks the junction and you're basically stuffed. Somehow we found the A1M via somewhere near my old school up in Stanmore, and then there was a smash, with ambulances rushing up the hard shoulder, so we sat there for a while too, and eventually we turned off, pootled across some golden cornfields and adorable countryside near Cambridge, along twisty little lanes, past calendar-worthy old houses, and arrived for supper at the 15th-century Cross-Keys Inn (no ghosts on display) a cool almost-three-hours after setting out. Made the concert in the nick of time.

The thing about going anywhere in the UK to review a concert is that you have to go, and in my unfortunate experience neither roads nor trains can be relied upon to get you anywhere at the time you need to be there. This has always been bad, but it's getting worse and heaven alone knows how things are going to function after the B word happens, in a country seemingly hell-bent on national suicide.

When the revolution comes, and it may, I'll head for Essex and hide under the piano in Saffron Hall. Because this place gives me hope in what remains of our humanity.


Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Taking it to the Maxim...

Vengerov 2
...or taking the Maxim to the Editor's Lunch, in this case. My interview with the very vibrant Vengerov is out now at The Amati Magazine. We went to The Gilbert Scott brasserie at St Pancras and enjoyed quite a lavish Sunday roast. Read the whole thing here.

Taster:
Vengerov took a break of several years from the violin, following an injury to his shoulder; but during his time out he turned himself into a conductor, studying in Moscow with Yuri Simonov. On his return to the Wigmore platform in April 2012, he performed a programme of Bach, Handel and Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata. 
His playing emerged as fiery, burnished and characterful as ever – yet subtly different, too.‘I think it has changed only for the better,’ Vengerov says. ‘I was refreshed and I could use the knowledge of my new job as a conductor. I implemented a lot of things I learned from conducting to the violin business. I even rebuilt my technique based on this knowledge. 
‘I think my rhythm became better, in some ways – because as a conductor you have to have great rhythm,’ he adds. ‘As a soloist you sometimes don’t realise: you just go along with the flow and everyone has to follow you! But I think now my phrasing and colouring are sharper, more precise, more differentiated. Before that it was more instinctive. Today it’s more conscious, and yet I use the freedom that I had before.’ ....

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Vengerov rides again



(Above: Maxim Vengerov plays and talks on BBC Radio 3's In Tune the day before his Wigmore comeback concert...don't miss it, even if you missed the concert.)

Being Maxim Vengerov at the Wigmore Hall the other night must have been rather like being Barack Obama winning the US election. The weight of expectation had to be all but inhuman. Vengerov's comeback concert - to which his appearance as stand-in for Martha Argerich  two weeks ago was an unexpected warm-up - couldn't have announced more clearly that the violinist means business. It is some six years since an injury grounded him. Since then, he's discovered life beyond four strings and a bow, from conducting to dancing the tango. He's taken up a new post as Menuhin Professor at the Royal Academy of Music and he has recently married Olga, sister of the violinist Ilya Gringolts. The couple now have a baby daughter.

It's a long way from prime prodigy to professor and proud papa; and even if Vengerov didn't exactly need to grow up - we'll never forget his magnificent performances in his teens and twenties - then he has certainly matured. The showmanship has by no means vanished, as his encores, Brahms's Hungarian Dance No.1 and the Wieniawski Scherzo Tarantelle, proved (so why did the dear old Wigmore audience get up and start going? I reckon he'd have been ready to keep playing for a good while longer...). But the bulk of the recital was weighty fiddle fare: the Bach D minor Partita, the Handel D major Sonata and Beethoven's 'Kreutzer' Sonata, which Vengerov is privileged to play on the 'Kreutzer' Stradivarius. Kreutzer himself never played that sonata; that was his loss.

Vengerov switched bows for the second half. Not that it was possible to see, from the murky depths of the Wigmore Critics' Cattery, the precise nature of the bow he used for the Bach and Handel - it seemed pointier, and the sound it produced was more forced and less lovely. With the D minor Partita, though, Vengerov reclaimed the stage on which he first stormed London. From long, stark note number one, delivered with head raised and turned away from the instrument, the space was his, the sound all his own; the music unfolded like a water garden uncurling its wonders from within. The Chaconne was as muscular and idealised as a Michelangelo sculpture.

Joined by his regular duo partner, Itamar Golan, Vengerov created a different soundworld for the Handel: this was genial music-making for friends, in contrast to the inward soliloquies on which we seem to eavesdrop in solo Bach. Delicious with piano accompaniment, drawn with soft and deft strokes, tastefully decorated, it conjured a sepia-toned environment that didn't project outwards so much as invite us all in.

But it was the Beethoven that stole the show. Vengerov and Golan never played safe, working at tempi on the edge of the possible in that crazy first movement development, with dynamics that blazed, and electricity that flared, flickered and illuminated by turns. Uniting a composer's inner ethos with the nature of the physical sound has become something of an under-rated art, but that's what they did: the eloquent richness of Vengerov's tone and its soaring conviction was Beethoven, with all his idealism and defiance alive and well. That's the mysticism of which music and its finest exponents are capable. And as an address from a newly returned president in a musical White House, it couldn't have been more inspiring.

The concert was recorded for BBC Radio 3 and I think it is going out on 29 April. Also projected for the Wigmore Live record label.

Bravo, Maxim! It's good to have you back.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Newsround: The Long Road to Parsifal

My Internet is back, so very quickly, before it vanishes again, here's a little newsround.

BATONFLIPPER'S BIG BREAK


Don't miss this blog by conductor Michael Seal, who tweets as @batonflipper, about how Andris Nelsons dropped out of the CBSO tour and he had to step in at an astounding 20 minutes' notice. There followed a massive programme with Jonas Kaufmann singing the Kindertotenlieder. By all accounts Michael did magnificently. Is this his big break? Let's hope so. Interesting, too, to hear about how Der Jonas responded when a member of the audience shouted at him after his first song to step forward because they couldn't see him...

THE RETURN OF MAXIM VENGEROV


He's been around, but not playing the violin: an injury has kept him away from the fiddle on a sort of enforced sabbatical. But now he's back at last. Maxim Vengerov is on In Tune on BBC Radio 3 today, playing and talking, sometime after 4.30pm. Tomorrow he'll be giving his first Wigmore Hall recital for around 20 years, with Itamar Golan at the piano. I was at that last one, and I will never, ever forget it. He was 14 and there, on stage, was a spotty schoolboy playing for all the world like Jascha Heifetz. I am sure everything will be different now - have the intervening decades mellowed him, or will he be that same virtuoso daredevil? It's a comparatively restrained programme: Handel, Bach and Beethoven - but of course music doesn't get any greater than the Bach D minor Partita and the Beethoven 'Kreutzer'. Go, Maxim, go!

WHERE'S TOMCAT?

He's here:



That, in case you wondered, is a view from the pit at the Bavarian State Opera, Munich, where our Tomcat is currently working, having taken extra time away from London. His own enforced sabbatical (rather different from Vengerov's) has done him the power of good - and the particular ironic trajectory by which this Buxton-raised son of German-Jewish refugees from Berlin fetches up in Munich, playing Wagner's Parsifal at Easter, is something that you couldn't make up. The orchestra is fabulous, he says, with no weak links; it functions with plenty of space, great facilities, grown-up attitudes and, not least, crack football teams for both sexes. Right now he's being shown the town by Wilhelm Furtwangler's great-grandson, who happened to be sitting next to him on the plane.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Vengerov and the healing power of music


Speaking of organisations that enable music to change lives, Maxim Vengerov has just given a recital in a neurological hospital in Putney, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Live Music Now. Richard Morrison went along to report for The Times. Vengerov tells him, among other things, the following:

“This kind of work is my first passion. This is where I think music belongs. And it has a wonderful effect on me, too, not just on these people here. You see, when you talk to severely brain-damaged people, they may not understand what you are saying. But once you start playing music, you are speaking to their subconscious. And what happens is that the effect of that bounces back. So I, as a musician, get in touch with my own subconscious. It goes in both directions, this therapy.”


Read the whole thing here.

And while we're reading Richard, here's his review of the Glyndebourne Macbeth, which will tell you a little more about those cardboard boxes. Also see Ed Seckerson in the Indy.