Making an Effort

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


1st August- Russian Greats- ASO, Vasily Petrenko and Simon Trpčeski

Orchestra: Adelaide Symphony Orchestra

Conductor: Vasily Petrenko

Piano: Simon Trpčeski

Venue: Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre

Concert Programme booklet and ticket. I wonder what Vasily Petrenko thinks of this look!

Concert Programme booklet and ticket. I wonder what Vasily Petrenko thinks of this look!

Rimsky-Korsakov: Capriccio Espagnol

Tchaikovsky: Piano concerto No. 1

Rachmaninov: Symphony No.1

Having decided to book tickets to spend Christmas 2014 in Adelaide with friends, the next thing I knew was that Vasily Petrenko and Simon Trpčeski were embarking on a New Zealand and Australia tour in the summer (well, the Southern Hemisphere winter). Being a big fan of these wonderful musicians, I wondered if I would be able to fit in a trip down under to see them performing in yet another city. (This would be the fourth city I have seen them perform in!) Of course, I managed to fit them in my summer schedule – my priorities are obviously skewed for this favourable outcome!

Arriving at Festival Theatre, I wondered where my seat was as I thought it was in the fifth row, but my seat was in row EE. Row EE turned out to be the very first row and I was seated to the left, so I would be able to have a very good view of the keyboard.

The concert started with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol, a piece that I thought I was not so familiar with. It was easy to become entranced by the Spanish melodies. The music continued with brilliant moments for brass, solo violin and woodwind finally coming to celebratory climax.

Trpčeski and Petrenko teamed up for Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 which I had last heard them perform together with Liverpool Philharmonic at the White Nights concert before they recorded it together. There were quite a few moments as I watched soloist and conductor and thought, ‘This would make a great photo’ as Petrenko conducted and leant towards Trpčeski. The ‘Dream Team’ worked together seamlessly. It was wonderful to listen to the concerto with its familiar piano melody; familiarity did not breed contempt in this case. Watching Trpčeski’s hands on the piano sends my brain conflicting messages. When fingers move so swiftly, they seem like a blur but what you can hear in the music is heartfelt and precise. Where the melodies are more jovial, you definitely get a sense of playfulness in the performance. Making music so easy to connect to emotionally seems to be a Trpčeski signature. As usual, in some of the orchestral parts, Trpčeski took time to look into the audience, something I think he actively reminds himself of and doesn’t take for granted. Who can blame him? When I looked behind me later, I saw that the theatre was packed with around 2000 people. It’s wonderful to see artists obviously enjoy their performance and collaboration with the orchestra. Trpčeski at times seemed to sit back to take in the sound of the orchestra and couldn’t resist moving to the music. Trpčeski was joined by the principal cellist and concertmaster for the encore.

Spotify: Vasily Petrenko, Simon Trpčeski, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra: Tchaikovsky piano concertos 1 & 2 

I’ll not write much about Rachmaninov Symphony No.1 as I just saw Petrenko conduct this in Liverpool at the White Nights concert. I did think he seemed to conduct with less sweeping movements compared to in Liverpool – but I may put this down to a change in my perspective from a very different seat! I also guess that naturally a conductor will differentiate with orchestras just as a teacher does with their classes.

Spotify: Vasily Petrenko, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra : Rachmaninov Symphony No.1

Adelaide Festival Centre which houses Festival Theatre. To the right, you can see Adelaide Oval behind which is on the other side of River Torrens, where cricket and Australian Rules Football is played.

Adelaide Festival Centre which houses Festival Theatre. To the right, you can see Adelaide Oval behind which is on the other side of River Torrens, where cricket and Australian Rules Football is played.

I did take the opportunity to wait around by the artist’s entrance at the back of the building to see if I could say ‘Hello!’ to Trpčeski and Petrenko. I had nearly given up, when they finally appeared and I was greeted with a big hug from Simon and was introduced to his wife and (very cute) daughter. Vasily asked if I would see them perform in Melbourne, which I confessed had been my original plan, but due to holiday with friends and returning to work, was not to be. It was very nice of him to try to convince me to change my travel plans! I really love seeing these two musicians perform, separately and even better, together. I am not sure when I’ll see them next. I really should have convinced them to come to Hong Kong!


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2nd July, 2015 White Nights Concert – RLPO, Vasily Petrenko, Alexandru Tomescu

Orchestra: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Conductor: Vasily Petrenko

Violin: Alexandru Tomescu

Venue: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

Clear blue summer sky over Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool - with the obligatory coach bringing concertgoers outside.

Clear blue summer sky over Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool – with the obligatory coach bringing concertgoers outside.

Tchaikovsky  –  Excerpts from Swan Lake (Scene, Dance of the Swans, Neopolitan Dance, Mazurka)

Glazunov  –  Violin Concerto

Rachmaninov  –  Symphony No.1

This concert is the first concert that I am attending in the UK this summer. I always look out for the White Nights concert in RLPO’s ‘Summer Pops’ series, and quickly shoot off an email to ask my best friend, Juliet, if she can attend (and arrange tickets!) too. RLPO concerts are also often the first reason Ju and I meet up in the summer! It was also lovely to find that friends, Robin and Nick were seated right behind us, making them very easy to find!

The concert started with excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s well known ballet ‘Swan Lake’ – beautifully played and immediately my mind conjured pictures of ballerinas in white tutus. For the start of ‘Dance of the Swans’, as part of the audience, it was hard to tell if Petrenko was actually conducting. I wondered if he was conducting solely with facial expressions or maybe just his eyebrows! His motions were minimal during this movement to set and keep the quiet delicate tone. I was pleasantly surprised to realise that the ‘Neopolitan Dance’ had a cornet solo which Brendan Ball played. Fantastic! The lively ‘Mazurka’ had a wonderful celebratory sound to finish this first part of the concert.

The Glazunov violin concerto was a fabulous performance with Tomescu as violinist. As in my previous post, I listened out for the 2nd movement inserted into the first. Then there was Tomescu’s mesmerising cadenza. I felt quite entranced by the intensity of his playing, that as the basses entered at the end of the cadenza, they seemed to bring me back to reality – a sure sign for me that there is something special about the performance and artist. Tomescu followed the concerto with an encore by Romanian composer, Enescu.

At the interval, we went out to stretch our legs and I managed to say a quick ‘Hello!’ to Andrew Cornall (RLPO Artistic Consultant) who I had last spoken to at the RLPO concert in Shenzhen,China in November. It seems to me like the artistic planning team do such a great job at booking artists and figuring out the season’s repertoire that I love checking out their website throughout the year just to see what’s on. I finally decided to get an ice cream and as we were just about to dig in, there was the 5 minute call to go back to our seats. Ju saw the panic on my face, but then told me that we were allowed to eat it in the hall. I really wasn’t convinced and expected to be pounced on at any moment, but lo and behold, Ju was right! I’m obviously too used to Hong Kong venues with their ‘no eating’ rules!

Rachmaninov Symphony no. 1 was a pleasure to listen to with its Dies Irae theme. I always seem to be amazed at what I notice when I hear RLPO play. I truly feel like I hear more of the music by being able to notice each instrument’s emphasis throughout the piece. I am guessing that this is attributed to the balance the players and conductor work at achieving. The final movement (Allegro con fuoco) starts with a vibrant brass march before it continues with strings at quite a gallop interspersed with romantic swells. I love how the music builds in pace and intensity and then there’s the hit of the gong that seems to tell the music to just calm down! The ending was at a calmer pace but still with a good amount of force. When Petrenko turned around, he looked quite exhausted – he’d obviously put as much energy into the performance as the orchestra. Rarely do i get to see an orchestral encore, but I have heard that RLPO have been doing so. It was distinctly recognisable as another Rachmaninov piece – I wasn’t sure what it was but as it continued, I was convinced I knew it and managed to work out that it was a dance from ‘Aleko’. As we exited, Robin said the encores would be displayed on the screen outside the concert hall and I found out that I was right  – ‘Men’s dance from Aleko’. I think I made one of the ushers smile as I made my fist pump!

I had a little gift of Japanese snacks for Brendan and Mrs Ball, so we waited in the foyer and Mrs Ball appeared. So we exited and found Brendan outside with his bike and stopped for a little chat and photo before Ju and I briskly walked to catch our train home.

Post concert photo with Brendan Ball and Mrs Ball.

Post concert photo with Brendan Ball and Mrs Ball.

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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):