I was entering the dates of the 2011/12 Brighton Philharmonic ( into my diary this week, and it made me recall one of the concerts of last year.

The opening work was Tchaikovsky’s The Tempest.    The Tempest is my favourite of all the Shakespeare plays, with its magic and its mysteries and its questions which cannot be answered.   And then there is the physical tempest.    A storm is a magnificent sight – dark, moody, flashes of lightening, wind, rain.   How it blows in and it passes on.   I love storms.

This music is such a disappointment.    Now, sadly, I’m somebody with no musical background or training whatsoever.    In my childhood I heard no music apart from hymns (which did not leave me with any particular fondness for them.)   I play no musical instrument, though I made sure all my children did.    I have a very ordinary, fair to middling sort of voice, so I did get picked for school choirs, but I was never very keen on the endless repetitions and the hanging about so much, and tended to avoid them.    My responses are therefore uneducated and ignorant, but intuitive; and I don’t really listen to music with any great expectations at all.

Sometimes my own reactions surprise me, as for example that I wept when hearing the Verdi song of the doomed love of Rigoletto for his daughter.   This surprised me; and I still weep whenever I hear it, which continues to surprise me.   One of my favourite Arias is O My Beloved Father,  (Puccini).   I paused in the writing of this blog to listen to Montserrat Caballe sing it (Monserrat Caballe – O Mio Babbimo Caro –   I once had the privelege of hearing her at an open air concewrt at Hampden Court.   I watched with scepticism as this fat, old woman was practically carried on stage.   But then she sang and you forgot all that and just saw the goddess that she was.   Music can be  treacherous and catch you unawares.   I’m suspicious of its visceral, non verbal, non-thinking tug at your emotions.

Some performances are electrifying from the moment the soloist picks up his instrument until he sounds the last retreating note.   Others are just attention seeking noises.

Long ago, in some now forgotten venue in Stirling, John and I went to hear some concert with a violin solo.   I can’t remember either the composer of the music, or the name of the soloist, but he was I do recall, a Norwegian.   He came on, performed the usual courtesies,  and  then picked up his violin.   He dedicated his whole being to the music, the spirit of the composer flowed through him, he never once glanced at, or seemed aware at all of the audience.    He played such that as it were he summoned the goddess to dance before us.   The audience was transfixed, beguiled, silent.   He played on withdrawn into his holy, magic place, until he caressed his bow through the final, haunting notes.   In the silence that followed he looked up at the audience for the first time, and being directly in his line of vision, his eye fell on me.   Still in that eerie pause where his enchantment had not quite released us, I mouthed silently, straight at him, ‘Wonderful’.    His sober face lit up.   The moment was just for us.   Then the audience began to roar and clap and he was everyone’s.

But no such magic occurred with the Tchaikovsky.   I do not think the composer’s heart was in it.   In my view he completely failed to capture the strange mystery and sacrifice at the heart of this play, when Shakespeare, in the mouth of Prospero, abjured ‘this rough magic’.   Whose ‘rough magic’ in all the history of the world, was greater than Shakespeare’s?   Yet in the writing are veiled expressions of regret, as if the writer felt he had abused his powers.   None of this enigma was described.   Nor could Tchaikovsky even deliver essence of storm.   When after only a few minutes you’re consulting your programme to see how many more minutes you must endure, it’s not a good sign.

The following Delius (Walk to the Paradise Gardens) was tedious.    My powers of dismissal (which are considerable) are not adequate to diss Delius.

Finally, Tchaikovsky’s Concert for Viola and Cello which did show a bit more spirit, but by this time I am tired and disgruntled and past caring.

But then as I said, I am an ignoramus.   The playing at least called up memories.    Another time, perhaps?

Play on.


About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

4 Responses to PLAY ON

  1. Anne says:

    I have had a particularly musical week having attended the proms for the first time – an enjoyable experience but music relatively unmoving, and then spent the day yesterday singing and listening to music at the Making Waves On Broadway event in Haywards Heath. I do find certain music has the ability to ‘raise the hairs on the back of your neck’ or send a shiver down your spine. As you know I love dancing and love music that makes me want to dance. I experienced both of these sensations yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed myself!
    I have found singing in a choir both enjoyable and therapeutic. Listening to the suggested youtube clip of ‘My Beloved Father’ reminded me of one of my favourites we sing in InChoir which was written by a Norwegian and dedicated to his father. I think you said it reminds you of Danny Boy! This link goes to the original version (it was later made famous by Westlife).
    If you can bear it there is a version by InChoir singing in Lindfield Church – I am there but hidden by someone’s head!

  2. adhocannie says:

    It’s good to enjoy singing, although sadly one can’t do it like Monserrat Caballe!

  3. Sheena Murphy says:

    If I were to choose Tchaikowsky to listen to, it wouldn’t be that piece. Weren’t there several of his works which even he didn’t like (the 1812 Overture being one)? My favourite Tchaikowsky is his Souvenir de Florence (which I’ve never seen on a programme), and then the Serenade for Strings, rich enough on its own but even more dramatic when scoring Balanchine’s ballet.

    But it’s a question of personal taste, isn’t it. I always think, do they have to trot out every last piece of music by a celebrated composer? Like literature, just because the same artist penned it, doesn’t mean it should be in the canon. Do we have to read every last work by Dickens, even the not-so-great works, just because he’s Dickens, or could we spend more time reading better works by second-stringers like, say, Henry James, or Edith Wharton (I only mention those two because I always have an urge at this time of year to read The Bostonians and House of Mirth).

    But then, I’ve been to concerts where I have unfairly dimissed works because I didn’t know them (!) and have enjoyed them more than anything else on the programme (I once attended an open-air concert at Harbourfront where they played Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony: utterly gorgeous).

    Now, much as I must honour Monserrat Caballe’s divinity, I am in the Kiri Te Kanawa camp. I first heard her singing O Mio Babbino Caro in the opening credits of…A Room with a View, of course. I was an immediate devotee. But that aria disappoints me. I thought it was a song in praise of her father, but when I bothered to read the lyrics in translation I discovered that she’s actually begging her father to be able to marry the man that she loves! I prefer the gorgeous aria from La Rondine: (Chi Il Sogno di Doretto)

    And she can do justice to Mozart as well. Her recording (with Dawn Upshaw and others) of the Marriage of Figaro is my favourite.

    This all reminds me of your other blog about awful novels that don’t improve. Should we struggle through or throw the book across the room? Should we walk out in the middle of a concert if we don’t like it or stick with it and hope to be surprised?

    Maybe it’s a “Once bitten, twice shy” approach that’s needed. I know I will never sit through Schoenberg again!

    • adhocannie says:

      I guess it’s all down to personal preference (ie which diva..) I can see the merit in the argument for sticking with the performance/book/ whatever although I have to say that when I do, I don’t feel I would have missed anything. But if one’s companion wishes to stick it out til the end, that’s a good enough reason.

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