Making an Effort

To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also. – Igor Stravinsky


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Pre- White Nights Concert – RLPO

For a while now, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra have been performing a ‘White Nights’ concert as part of their summer pops series in June-July. It is so named after the White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg where their principal conductor, Vasily Petrenko hails from. This Russian festival is an arts festival that occurs during the season of the midnight sun. So, the concert consists of music cSwaomposed by Russian composers, with a Russian conductor at the helm and performed by RLPO, of whom the Financial Times has asked, ‘Could this be the best Russian orchestra outside of Russia?’

Romanian violinist Alexandru Tomescu will be joining them as the soloist this Thursday. Tomescu studied in Switzerland and the U.S. before returning to Romania. He performs concerts worldwide and focuses on changing the perception of classical music in his home nation. This has involved playing in a subway station, in a forest and in front of a house in ruins – all to make specific statements. He has been playing the Stradivarius Elder Voicu (1702) since 2007.

Tchaikovsky – Scenes from Swan Lake

Scene and Dance of the Swans from Act 2

Neopolitan dance and Mazurka from Act 3

Tchaikovsky wrote ‘Swan Lake’ in 1875-76. The origins of the story of Swan Lake are disputed  – a story by Johann Karl August, Musäus’ ‘The Stolen Veil’, the Russian folktale ‘The White Duck and the life story of Bavarian King Ludwig II. Having been to few ballets (I prefer watching orchestral concerts – and even though at ballets they often perform with an orchestra, they hide them in the pit!) I’m actually not that familiar with the story. I like knowing the story that goes with the music – whether it’s a symphonic poem or ballet suite. So here’s a quick summary of the story:

Act 1: Prince Siegfried celebrates his birthday. His mother is concerned and tells him that at the ball he has to choose someone to marry. Siegfried is unhappy that he cannot marry for love. His friends try to console him and as a flock of swans pass by overhead, suggest they go on a hunt. (Obviously not a British royal family as (mute) swans are a protected species!)

Act 2: Siegfried is separated from his friends and find himself next to the enchanted lake. He sees a flock of swans, lifts his crossbow then sees a swan transform into a beautiful girl, Odette. She tells him that they are under a sorcerer, Von Rothbart’s spell and that during the day they are swans, but at night by the lake they are return to human form. The spell is only broken if someone who has never loved before swears to love Odette forever. Siegfried breaks his bow and start’s to win Odette’s trust, but as dawn breaks, she is transformed back into a swan.

Act 3: At the ball, 6 princesses arrive for Siegfried to choose one to marry. Von Rothbart arrives with his daughter, Odle, whose appearance seems to be exactly the same as Odette. Siegfried naturally chooses to dance with Odile. Odette appears in a vision to warn Siegfried of the deception. However, Siegfried declares he will marry Odile. Von Rothbart reveals a vision of Odette causing Siegfried distress and he runs to find her.

Act 4: Odette is distraught at Siegfried’s betrayal. Even though the swan maidens comfort ehr she is resigned to death. Siegfried apologizes to Odette who forgives him and they declare their love for each other. Von Rothbart appears and insists that Siegfried keeps his word and marries Odile. Siegfried chooses to die so he and Odette leap into the lake. This breaks the spell over the swan maidens and Von Rothbart dies.

Glazunov  –  Violin Concerto in A minor Op. 82

Glazunov wrote his violin concerto in 1904. He dedicated it to violinist Leopold Auer who gave its first performance at a Russian Musical Society concert in St. Petersburg on 15th February, 1905. There are no pauses in this concerto but it is often described as being in 3 or 4 movements. The slow second movement is inserted into the middle of the first movement. Glazunov wrote the cadenza at the end of the first movement. It uses double stopping technique making it one of the most difficult parts of this concerto.

Here is a video of Hilary Hahn performing the concerto with WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln and Semyon Bychkov as conductor:

The last time I heard this concerto performed was at the inaugural concert at the Nanshan Cultural and Sports Center in Shenzhen, China with Ning Feng as soloist performing with the RLPO and Vasily Petrenko conducting at their first concert on their 2014 China tour.

Rachmaninov  –  Symphony No.1

Grave-allegro non-troppo – Allegro animato – Lhargetto – Allegro con fuoco

The reputation of this symphony is quite renowned due to its first performance and its affect it had on Rachmaninov. This was actually Rachmaninov’s second attempt at writing a symphony. He wrote it from January to October 1895. The first performance was in St Petersburg on 28th March 1897. This was a disastrous performance with Alexander Glazunov conducting it. The performance was under-rehearsed, bland and possibly conducted by an inebriated Glazunov who was reputed to be partial to an alcoholic drink. The form of his symphony was new to other Russian composers who viewed symphonic form different from their own to be less acceptable. This resulted in Rachmaninov’s psychological collapse. The score was left in Russia when Rachmaninov was exiled in 1917. In 1944, the separate instrumental parts were found and used to reconstruct the full score.

Here’s a bit of advertising! A most wonderful recording of both Prince Rostislav and Symphony no.1 by the lovely folks in Liverpool (Just the album sampler):

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Why I am making an effort

So, here I am, making an effort. I had tried blogging before, but I never had a focus. Just blogging about life wasn’t really my thing. Over the past few years, I have rediscovered my love for classical music and started attending concerts, mostly on my own. Well, I figured that you’re not supposed to talk anyway, so what difference does it make whether you’re sitting with friends or not. It turned out that once I started going, I inspired a friend to go and also bumped into people I knew at these concerts – or even made friends there.

Recently, a dear friend, Nancy, asked me whether I had thought about blogging about these concerts as a) I knew of classical musicians she’d never heard of and b) it was obviously something I am passionate about. I do admit that I am not very educated in the field of music and really would not be able to be a very good critic. I just know what I like. So, in my apprehension in starting a new project, I sent emails and messages to a few friends to seek their opinions. My lovely best friend, Juliet, encouraged me and told me that I needn’t worry about being a critic like anyone else – just write from my point of view. Another friend, Dennis, who blogs about classical music in Hong Kong (he also interviews musicians, advises and does talks about classical music) pointed out that a blog would be my own way of recording concerts I attend and this was how he started out.

I’m hoping that as I embark on this new project, that I achieve a few things:

1. Record the concerts I go to so I can look back to see the amazing musicians I have had the privilege of seeing perform and know what music I have experienced.

2. Find out more about the composers, musicians, orchestras, music (e.g. what it is about and why it was written) and venues.

3. Have fun writing about and sharing my experiences. I think so far the only person who gets to hear about them in writing is Juliet!

So, I’m hoping this will help me to be a better listener – as I really don’t want to just be a duck.

To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also

– Igor Stravinsky