Monday, June 8, 2009

Early Mozart and Prokofiev -- What a Combination!

Recently the Old Scientist and I were given tickets for a Vancouver Symphony Orchestra concert. As usual he asked suspiciously, What's the program? All I knew was Mozart and Prokofiev. Mmm. This is a man who is not eclectic in his musical taste, in fact if the music is composed after the nineteenth century he does not care for it at all. So the Mozart should be satisfactory but the Prokofiev merely to be endured, well to his mind.

After the disaster of my last visit to the Symphony, when it took me 65 minutes to get from the top of the parking lot to the paybooth at the bottom after the concert, I was determined to be very early, which is highly unusual for me. I had not paid much attention to the location of the seats but to my surprise and a little to my horror we were in the second row of the orchestra and towards the right. In fact we were right opposite the double bases. All seven of them! So we became intimately acquainted with that instrument during this concert and since the double bass is the lowest pitch stringed instrument we listened to this concert with a heavy bass emphasis.

However I did observe some interesting things due to this seating arrangement. There were two different styles of bowing technique used by the players. Some used the "French" or "overhand" bow which is similar in shape and implementation to the bow used on the other members of the string instrument family, while others used the "German" or "Butler" bow which is typically broader and shorter, and is held in a "hand shake" position. I also noted that the double basses all seemed to be rather "worn" with very dull scratched varnish. I wonder if there is a Stradivari of double basses, although a cursory look did not yield anyone.

But what about the music you say? While the conductor was a guest for the evening, he is well known in Vancouver, since he was the orchestra's permanent conductor from 1972 until 1985. He is also the musical director and permanent conductor of the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, a post he has held since 1974. Kazuyoshi Akiyama opened the concert with the Overture to the opera Colas Breugnon, written by Dimitri Kabalevsky (1904 -1987). No, I had not heard of him either, although the OS had, despite him not being in the required time frame for his preferred composers. Kabalevsky was a modern Russian composer who managed to retain favour with government officials all his life and this opera had the typical axe to grind, namely unfair oppression of common people by their masters. This piece involved the full orchestra and they performed it vigorously. Enough said there.

Then followed Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9 in E -flat Major, performed by the young Israeli pianist Benjamin Hochman and with a much reduced in size orchestra. The concerto was written by Mozart at age 21 and so it was fitting that a young pianist interpreted it for us. Yes, by age 21, Mozart had already written 8 previous piano concertos and went on to write 27 in all. While rarely performed today it was a groundbreaking work in its day and changed the way piano concertos were written by others from then on. It was the first concerto to mount an equal dialogue between piano and orchestra: in fact the soloist begins to play after a very short prelude by the orchestra and the melodies weave back and forth between piano and orchestra for the whole piece. Since it is so highly regarded I wonder that it is not performed in concert more often. Most enjoyable.

The second half of the program consisted of the Symphony No 5 in B-Flat Major, by Sergei Prokofiev, written in 1944 and certainly his best known symphony. The full orchestra was back on the stage and I have to say I think this is a work that the performers must enjoy playing tremendously as they all seem to be involved most of the time. It is quite a grand piece in feeling and the fourth and final movement is a very energetic (I have even seen it described as "frenzied") triumphant conclusion to the whole. I enjoyed it but of course the old scientist was not enamoured of the piece at all. He even emailed his sister afterwards and told her if the opportunity to hear this arose, to give it a miss. Sigh!

Due to my forethought we sailed out of the parking lot after the concert and were home in no time at all for a cup of tea. I still think Mozart and Prokofiev a rather strange combination. Andante, the first movement of the Prokofiev, for your "enjoyment". Just shy of eight minutes.

So, do you agree with the Old Scientist?


Granny on the Web said...

Well, stirring stuff I agree, but I don't think I could sit in a concert hall and listen, so I am with The Old Scientist I am afraid!!! I would be fidgety in no time... heathen that I am.

Love Granny

Liz said...

He knows what he likes!

I'm not good at sitting still so any sort of concert - if I can't stand up and wave my arms about - isn't really for me, i'm afraid.

Gledwood said...

I haven't been to a classical music concert for about 25 years!!

Gledwood said...

ps i tried to listen to that youtube, but could barely hear a thing ~~ that's the joy of internet cafes for you...

jams o donnell said...

Strange bedfellows. It's a very long time since I've been to a concert of classical music.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

I think I do - I've never been keen on Prokofiev. My grandad used to play the double bass and always maintained that it was the most important instrument!

Janice Thomson said...

While I enjoyed this I prefer his Symphony No.1 much more.
It's been a couple years since I too visited a concert hall.

Anonymous said...

All too clever for me - I just downed the new Green Day album if anyone is interested...

Moggs Tigerpaw said...

I was at an airshow once.

A Vulcan bomber flew over then climbed very steeply. I remember watching it climb directly away from me. It was incredibly graceful.

It also made my whole body literally vibrate. I wonder if your intimacy with the double bases may have been a little bit like that. ^_^

Little boots has just released her new album, 'Hands'. I bought it.

Voyager said...

Prokofiev makes me want to strangle someone after ten minutes of listening. Mostly myself. Nuff said.

jmb said...

Well it is not everyone's taste Granny. I am sure you like music none the less.

Laughing out loud Liz. You would not do well in that stuffy atmosphere.

How are you Gleds? Thanks for trying.

I thought it strange too Jams. Either you would like one or the other, not both I think.

I liked parts of the Prokofiev Welshcakes but overall, not so much.

I'll have to try that one Janice.

Mutley I don't know what the Green Day album is. I'll have to consult the interwebs.

That is an interesting connection Moggs. Little Boots? Another one for me to try.

I think the Old Scientist would agree with you Voyager.

Thanks to everyone for visiting and commenting.

Anonymous said...

Green Day is punk....