Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pictures at an Exhibition

This past Saturday we had seats for a symphony concert at the Orpheum Theatre. It's quite a while since we had season's tickets, now instead we prefer to buy them occasionally, depending on the program. On this particular occasion, the tickets had been a birthday present to the "old scientist" from a friend so we didn't really pay any attention to the soloist or the program, just the date.

Since we usually dine leisurely, at Italian time, between 7.30 and 8 pm, it was a bit of rush to have dinner early, change and leave for the theatre. I thought I had left plenty of time for driving there, parking the car and arriving in adequate time to peruse the program before the beginning of the concert.

But everywhere you go now in Vancouver you come across road works and two lanes become one with trucks, equipment and crew in what was formerly the second lane. Even downtown on Saturday night, it seems. All getting ready for the Winter Olympics in 2010. I guess they must have finally plumbed the depths of the treasury of upper levels of government for we have been complaining about the state of the roads here for ages. So the journey downtown was a trifle slow.

Needless to say, we rushed into the foyer as the gong was sounding and fell into our seats just as the concert master entered the stage. Hurriedly perusing the program in the half dark I found to my delight that the main offering was Pictures at an Exhibition, by Modest Mussorgsky. The very piece I had mentioned in my post Pieces of Eight, earlier in the week. One I could listen to over and over.

So I settled in to the first half of the concert. Richard Strauss's Don Juan followed by Gustav Mahler's Blumine. Oh, no! The "old scientist" doesn't like much written after 1800. But both were very enjoyable. Then the soloist, a Canadian mezzo-soprano, Anita Krause, with a gorgeous voice, when you could hear her over the orchestra, performed Mahler's Ruckert Lieder. Less successful unfortunately, due to the singer being drowned out on occasion and frankly I find Lieder rather boring. Intermission followed and we were happy to sit in our seats and peruse the program notes.

Suddenly an army of stagehands appeared and started removing chairs from the stage. Then the piano was wheeled off. What the heck? Pictures at an Exhibition was written as a piano suite and then arranged for the orchestra most famously by Ravel, amongst others. There is always a piano. Suddenly all became clear. Elgar Howarth, English conductor, composer, former professional trumpeter and the conductor of the evening's performance, had arranged the suite for brass and percussion and this was the concert's main offering.

After the shakedown on the stage, with the addition of a wide range of percussion instruments including xylophone, seventeen brass players were assembled around the conductor with two percussionists across the rear. With very good orchestra seats we had an excellent view of the French horn players, with the one female, a very good looking young one at that, closest to us.

I must say that it was extremely interesting, watching them hastily exchange the various mutes and frequently empty the spittle out of the horns. Normally, the audience does not see these behind the scenes activities since brass players are usually seated at the back of the orchestra.

But did this arrangement work, you ask? Yes it did. We both enjoyed it very much, along with the rest of the audience who gave them such resounding applause that they played several encores. A very pleasant surprise indeed. I think the whole performance must have been delightful for the brass players who were very busy indeed, especially the percussionists. It's not often that they get an opportunity to shine so and the trumpet player was outstanding as he switched between several different instruments.

I don't think I'm rushing out to buy the CD of this arrangement. But I still love Ravel's orchestration of the suite and can listen to it again and again. Perhaps you might like to hear the first of four parts of this performance conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen with the Philharmonic Orchestra at the BBC Proms. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


Janice Thomson said...

I'm with you Jmb. I prefer Ravel's orchestration much much more. This was nice but I think when instrumentation is changed it rarely holds the same depth of feeling. Certain pieces are written with certain instruments in mind; to change that changes the quality, tone and direction of the piece.

Ellee said...

What a wonderful present, a season ticket will ensure you are much more likely to attend more concerts. Alas, my husband does not share my enjoyment of classical music, he prefers heavy rock. My culture buddy is a lady in her 80s and I have booked us tickets for one in Cambridge, they have so many excellent concerts there and I know I miss so much.

Anonymous said...

You seem to have had a great time Ms JMB, I am afraid that it ALL went completely over my head, and made me feel very stupid . But there you are. I shall stick with my old men in pubs I think...:-(

Carver said...

Thanks for another enjoyable post and it was a treat to listen to the Philharmonic performance you posted. Take care, Carver

Lord James-River said...

But everywhere you go now in Vancouver you come across road works and two lanes become one...

What's going on? Why now?

Shades said...

I have Pictures as the Ashkenazy version- both piano and orchestral versions.

I also rather like the Moog/Hammond version arranged by Keith Emerson, for sentimental reasons.

It is good to see an old picture house well used and loved in a new guise, that doesn't happen very much in Blighty.

Crushed by Ingsoc said...

I'm afraid to say, this is an area where my ignorance is pretty much total.

I can identify classical music used as filmscores, that's about it, I'm sorry to say.

Gledwood said...

You have my sympathy re the Olympics... we're awash with stories here about allotment holders having their precious vegetable plots moved from Stratford to North London because somone's about to plonk an Olympic Village right on their pet carrots' heads!!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Sounds like you had a great time despite the rush and everything. Great description, jmb.

Sienna said...

Beautiful, and only thing missing was the chocolate; I would have been tempted to smuggle in :)


Sienna said...

Actually JMB would you have an idea if a photographic topic *nature morte* means "still life" (it's from the nos regards site)....I'm just not sure if they mean still life, as in "person still life", or "nature study still life"??


Ellee said...

You are a great culture vulture!

Jeanna said...

Lovely theater. Wow, I feel cultured just reading your post. We have an Orpheum Theatre here, but it's not spawning any debates on Ravel.

jmb said...

Hi Janice,
I have also heard the straight piano version, in fact I think that is how I discovered this piece many years ago.

Hi Ellee,
I think I have a more eclectic taste in music than my husband who is straight classical, but I enjoy classical a lot too.

Hi Mutley,
We all have different tastes in music and I would feel totally stupid with lots of other people's choices.

Hi Carver,
Glad you enjoyed the clip. I think they have everything on YouTube, somewhere.

Hi James,
They are fixing up the roads before the winter olympics which will be here and at Whistler in 2010.

Hi Ian,
I'm pretty sure the first time I heard this piece it was a piano version.
I have done several tours of the theatre and it's very interesting indeed. It's our opera house too.

Hi Crushed,
I'm surprised you have ignorance in any area at all. Try it, you might like it. Like art, you don't have to understand it to like it.

Hi Gleds,
The Olympics are very disruptive to the locals for sure. Still we'll survive no doubt and be in debt for years!

Hi Welschcakes,
Yes we did enjoy the concert and made it just in time thank goodness. I wouldn't want to explain to my friend about missing half of it.

Hi Sienna,
You are too funny. No chocolate for me this year. I answered you question in an email.

Hi Ellee,
No culture vulture but I do like good music and good art and history.

Hi Jeanna,
Thanks for visiting and the email as well. Glad you enjoyed the post.

Thanks to you all for visiting and commenting.

Ian Lidster said...

It would be like Elgar's Cello Concerto minus cello.
But, don't you just love the Orpheum? Takes me back to when I was about 12 and used to gaze at the huge chandelier and feel like I was in Versailles.

Dragonstar said...

I love 'Pictures at an Exhibition', and I also like the Emerson version mentioned by Shades (in fact, it was my introduction to the piece!)

There's an award for you on my blog.

jmb said...

Hi Ian,
Well it was certainly different but all the themes and motifs were there it seemed to me.
Yes the Orpheum is great and as I said I've been on several tours of the place.

Hi Dragonstar,
I'm glad we have the same opinion about this piece although I don't think I know the Emerson version myself.
I'll pop over to your site to see.