Monday, October 24, 2016
Shostakovich The Nose at the Royal Opera House tonight, conducted by Ingo Metzmacher, who is the reason why I want to go. Metzmacher once did a series called "Who's afraid of modern music?" confronting the notion that modern music is somehow "difficult". No ! and not The Nose ! A man wakes up to find his nose has disappeared. He's the kind of guy for whom appearance means status, but the nose has different ideas. It takes on its own life, running around town as a civic official. But even that’s not clear – sometimes it’s a body in a stretchy white shroud, sometimes it’s a piece of droopy rubber, and sometimes it’s not visible at all, and only spoken about.The Nose is funny, but it's also farce. The libretto's based on Gogol. Laughs, yes, but no smiles. Sharp teeth and eyes constantly alert for danger. Metzmacher will give the music bite. Valery Gergiev brought The Nose to London with the Mariinsky Theatre more than ten years ago, in a season of Shostakovich operas and ballets. Those were early days when the Mariinsky was still refered to by its old Soviet name the Kirov, and not funded and supported as well as it is now. The Mariinsky also did The Golden Years,which was heard no less than four times in different forms that same year. José Serebrier's recording was electrifying, the Mariinsky's live performance marred by poor staging. At that same time London also saw productions of The Bright Stream and The Bolt, another of my favourites. With at least three major productions of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in recent years, and the bizarre, unfinished Orango, which Salonen brought to maniac life (read more HERE), we haven't done badly. Besides, there's been so much 20th century Russian music and theatre in London (The Gambler, A Dog's Heart, etc) that The Nose at the Royal Opera House should be a cinch. I'm definitely not an admirer of Barrie Kosky, but hope that this new Nose will be up to scratch. And back to memories of the Mariinsky Nose, the best of the crop that golden year 2006. The Mariinsky Nose didn't rub away the very important political aspects of the piece, so even though the punch of the Russian text was lost on English speakers, the imagery was clear. It cocked a snoot at bureaucracy and conformity. When Kovalev tried to put an advertisement in the newspaper “lost and found” it’s refused on circuitous grounds. Vignettes flew at a hectic pace: the bagel seller who gets raped, the twins, the old dowager announcing her own death to a bunch of twitching, neurotic spinsters : a panorama of crazy life . Nothing’s explained: logic means little in this fertile procession of observations. At the end a Prince on a stuffed camel proclaimed everything’s sorted, but by then we were in the heart of mayhem, complete with banners of newsprint proclaiming HOC and COH, which were wordplays on the Cyrillic for “nose”. Like the Royal Opera House, the Mariinsky is also a ballet house. Thus the Mariinsky Nose blew the dance sub themes up well. For example, numerous cab drivers whirl about in frantic circles, each with a fascinating passenger within, yet the maelstrom is executed with such precision that it suggested the clockwork order of a society controlled by expectations. When the cab drivers lifted people above their shoulders – the dancers at the fringe of the group didn't touch, but moved in tune with other bodies as if they were all one single organism. The nose was played by a superbly athletic dancer who could do backflips and twist round the singer who sang Kovalev. Effectively, a pas de deux, but the dancer obviously the master. The point, exactly ! It was striking, too, how much the Mariinsky Nose owed to the Russian circus tradition. Of course there were clowns, but the real influence is deeper. Circus works because there’s so much happening, so fast, that the illusion is even more spectacular than what’s actually happening. Hence the highly coloured costumes, and the almost acrobatic physicality of the performers’ movements on stage. Even the massive metal tunnel (vaguely resembling a nose) created a vast new dimension to the set, further blurring the boundaries of linear perspective. At one point an angel vocalised wordlessly from the rafters, while a sinister dark angel flitted out from behind her. Circus extends the limits of what the human body can do – just as the errant nose amply demonstrates. Circus and opera both have the same goal: the creation of illusion. Watch this space. Friday I'll write up the new Shostakovich Nose.
In a long, rambling interview to the Financial Times’s former bureau chief, he seems to be in complete denial about his subservience to Vladimir Putin and his service to the Russian propaganda machine. Example: Yet there is another side to Gergiev, on display a few weeks earlier in a very different location and on a very different occasion. In the dusty, ancient city of Palmyra, recently recaptured by the Syrian army from the fanatical jihadis of Isis, Gergiev conducted a short concert in the Roman theatre in a performance dripping with political symbolism. The previous year Isis murdered 25 people at the site, turning their executions into a propaganda film. “I saw the blood on the stones myself,” Gergiev told me later in London. “We musicians, we artists, are asking politicians: why did you allow this to happen?” Has he ever challenged Putin about the air strikes on aid convoys and hospitals carried out by the Assad regime with Putin’s approval? Has he ever considered that he might be acting as an apologist for war crimes? This is no longer the Valery Gergiev we once knew and admired. Full report here.
I have for you today some details about the new recording of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony #2. Mahler: Symphony No. 2 ‘Resurrection’, performed by Anne Schwanewilms (soprano) and Olga Borodina (mezzo), with the Münchner Philharmoniker and the Munich Philharmonic Choir, Valery Gergiev conducting. This recording of Mahler’s Second Symphony was made during the opening concerts of Valery Gergiev’s first season as Music Director of the Munich Philharmonic. Since first coming to prominence after winning the Karajan Conducting Competition at the age of 24, Gergiev has established himself as one of the world’s great conductors and communicators on the value and role of music in today’s society. The Munich Philharmonic had an especially close relationship with Gustav Mahler and has long been associated with his music. Mahler conducted the Munich Philharmonic at the world premieres of his very own Fourth and Eighth Symphonies as well as Das Lied von der Erde. Although he rarely offered direct insight into any specific meaning behind his music, Mahler’s symphonies are characterised by the sense of a composer openly expressing his emotions regarding the great struggle of “life”. His epic second symphony, often referred to as The Resurrection Symphony, culminates in a spectacular final movement, complete with chorus, as the music passes though darkness to a place of redemption and elation. Here is the entire amazing composition, as performed in Munich:
Anna Picard: “Precision has never been part of the Gergiev-Mariinsky rough magic package. While not exactly sight-reading, the orchestra played as though rehearsing for the first time, without stopping to correct infelicities of articulation, intonation, blend, balance and ensemble. If authenticity is sounding like a mutinous scratch band in Cherepovets, this performance had plenty of it. You could argue that Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony benefits from a casual approach. But oh, the vinegar! You could souse herrings in chords like these.”
Cadogan Hall, London An all-Prokofiev programme celebrating his 125th anniversary didn’t do the composer many favoursSingle-composer programmes are always a risk. This one was the first instalment of Valery Gergiev’s Prokofiev symphony cycle with the Mariinsky Orchestra, in honour of the composer’s 125th anniversary. Sadly, it didn’t do the birthday boy many favours.Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony No 1 is a work whose sheer exuberance can survive more or less any treatment. Gergiev kept its particular brand of energy turned low, opting for a cooler neoclassical mode, with minutely controlled articulation in the strings and woodwind. His tempi were pointedly moderate, until a hectic reading of the final movement. Continue reading...
Last week, a Munich critic broke silence over the unrehearsed state of concerts conducted by Valery Gergiev, who is music director of the city’s philharmonic orchestra. The London Times has now chimed in. Critic Anna Picard writes today: It seems reasonable to assume that everyone on stage at the Cadogan Hall knew the notes in front of them. This was the first of three all-Prokofiev programmes from Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra: musicians who have grown up with this music and know its virtues, its vicissitudes, its mood swings and contradictory voices. Precision has never been part of the Gergiev-Mariinsky rough magic package. While not exactly sight-reading, the orchestra played as though rehearsing for the first time, without stopping to correct infelicities of articulation, intonation, blend, balance and ensemble. Rough, apparently, and by no means ready. Read full review here (paywall).