Sunday, January 08, 2012

Holy Cow!

Let's get the rest of today's SFS program out of the way quickly: the opening Liszt piece, Prometheus, had its moments, but I cringed when they got to the fugue, in exactly the same way I cringe when a pianist hits the fugue in Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy. Back slowly away from the counterpoint, boys, and leave it for people who know what they're doing.

The Tchaikovsky First, Winter Daydreams, which occupied the whole second half of the program, was worth staying for, if only because it's not performed often. It probably should be played more often; it's certainly appealing, with lots of big tunes and a few looks forward. The slow movement is awfully long, and I wish the scherzo had gone rather faster, but whatever. It's something of a rarity, it's not that technically challenging for anyone in the orchestra (or on the podium), and they had to play something on the second half of the program.

But I bought my row H seat in the orchestra for just one reason: to hear Christian Tetzlaff in the Ligeti Violin Concerto. Holy cow! What a piece! And what a performance!

It is insanely complicated, between the microtones, the rhythmic and metrical complexities, the fact that it's really a concerto for a bunch of soloists, the crazy solo part. Look at this scoring:
Two flutes (first double alto flute and alto recorder, second doubling piccolo and soprano recorder), oboe (doubling soprano ocarina in C), two clarinets (first doubling E-flat clarinet and soprano ocarina in F, second doubling bass clarinet and alto ocarina in F), bassoon (doubling soprano ocarina in C), two horns, trumpet, tenor trombone, timpani, two suspended cymbals (medium and low), crotales, tubular bells, gong, tam-tam, two woodblocks, tambourine, snare drum, bass drum, whip, two Swanee whistles, glockenspiel, xylophone, vibraphone, marimbaphone, and strings; the orchestral strings include five violins (one with scordatura), three violas (one with scordatura), two cellos, and one bass.
That percussion battery took three guys to play. "The orchestral strings include" means the orchestral strings ARE five violins, three violas, two cellos, and one bass. "Scordatura" means that Alexander Barantschik and Jonathan Vinocur were playing instruments tuned to other than the standard tuning. They had their own seats directly in front of MTT, effectively making them something of a trio with Tetzlaff. Back in the violin section were Mark Volkert, Jeremy Constant, and a second stand of violinists I couldn't identify from my seat.

For all of that, the structure of the piece and its major musical features are not difficult to hear, even if we hadn't had James Keller's excellent program notes and a clear and helpful spoken intro by MTT. He sounded slightly apprehensive; while I haven't seen the score, I can only imagine that it is a bear to rehearse and lead.

Stylistically, it's typical of Ligeti, combining some big, folklike tunes (and folk tunes) with immensely complex compositional techniques. Some of the techniques are old (variations; passacaglia); some are newish (microtones). It is beautiful - and sometimes very funny, though I was the only person I saw smiling at the ocarina entry (!).

All of the parts are extremely difficult. The solo part...holy shit. Demanding doesn't begin to tell the story; the soloist has to be comfortable at vast extremes of pitch and dynamics, have the highest level of virtuoso skill, and the musicianship to make it all make sense.

Christian Tetzlaff has all of that and obviously loves the piece. He was superlative, and so was everyone else on stage. I was on my feet at the end; the orchestral players gave the soloist a hand of their own; I was sorry to see how many audience members sat on their hands and didn't appreciate the greatness of piece and performances.


Civic Center said...

Saw it Saturday evening, and the audience was quite enthusiastic for the Ligeti, though during the performance a whole other section acted as if it was an excuse to pretend they were in a tuberculosis ward, particularly in the most pianissimo sections.

The Tchaikovsky #1 performance was ghastly. It's a beautiful, early symphony that needs to be played idiomatically, and not with MTT's very American foursquare approach which just made it dull.

Saw Tetzlaff at 1:30 PM on Hayes Street Sunday afternoon, in his street clothes, a half hour before the 2PM matinee concert, and I found myself bowing in front of him a la Wayne & Garth's "We Are Not Worthy," and he bust into laughter as I said, "Saw you last night. It was great." It really was.

Michael said...

Yes, the Ligeti was all that, and Tetzlaff was phenomenal. What a treat!

So did Ligeti know Henry Brant? Brant often played an ocarina during performances of his works. I doubly loved the ocarina quartet both for the wondrous sound and the Brant reference.

Lisa Hirsch said...

The Sunday audience was absolutely silent except for a small (reasonable) amount of throat-clearing/coughing between movements. Mike, bowing before him (or kissing his feet, if one is sufficiently flexible) is the only possible response. He was awesome.

Michael, I don't know about Brant; what an interesting question!

Anonymous said...

"some are newish (microtones)"


I actually haven't heard this Ligeti and am now very intrigued!

Lisa Hirsch said...

It's an amazing piece! There are three recordings; I have heard none of them.