One arrives in a city and what to make of it all? Everything is either small or larger or noisier or quieter than you expected. In reaction, one seeks out the history of a place. In Paris, one of the best places to start to understand the city’s architectural history is the Pavilion de l’Arsenal, which has recently redone its permanent exhibition, Paris, la métropole et ses projets. One of the unique aspects of Paris is the way the many museums, at least the national ones, are meant to fit neatly together like Métro carriages. The Musée d’Orsay (freshly renovated) takes over from the Louvre in the revolutionary year of 1848, followed in turn by the Centre Pompidou and so on. But there are always pieces left over, with enough overlap to resist any amount of fist pounding. For Paris enthusiasts there is the Musée Carnavalet on the history of the city and for architecture and urbanism there is the Arsenal and the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine at the Trocadero. In comparison, the Arsenal is more contemporary, more open-ended, more Paris-focused and perhaps less concerned with monumentality.
On arrive dans une ville, et comment la comprendre? C’est toujours plus petite ou plus grande, plus bruyante ou plus calme qu’on l’avait entendu. On recherche, instinctivement, l’histoire des lieux. À Paris, la Pavillon de l’Arsenal vient de refaire leur exposition permanente, Paris, la métropole et ses projets. À Paris les plusieurs musées, au moins les musées nationaux, s’emboîtent comme les rames du Métro. Le Musée d’Orsay (aussi renouvelé) commence où finit le Louvre dans l’année révolutionnaire de 1848, et puis le Centre Pompidou continue des 1914 à nos jours. Mais avec tant des musées il y a toujours les rames qui restent, libres peut-être. qui restent, libres peut-être. Pour les amateurs de Paris il y a le Musée Carnavalet de l’histoire de la ville et sur le plan architectural et urbaniste nous avons l’Arsenal et la Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine au Trocadero. Par rapport au Trocadero, l’Arsenal s’agit plus de Paris et en particulière sa architecture moderne et contemporaine.
For a long time I was put off Vivaldi by the incessant repetitions of the Four Seasons on the local classical radio station. This was of course unfair, but it can be tricky to find performances of many of his other several hundred pieces (not least in Venice itself), and in fact the frequently encountered way of playing Vivaldi, with a certain edge, a forthright, frenetic sort of energy, which may display the technical virtuosity to maximum effect, is unfair too. Australian Brandenburg Orchestra artistic director and harpsichordist Paul Dyer and guest violinist and director Federico Guglielmo have constructed a program which is remarkably varied — indeed to present a program devoted to a single composer (or an exhibition devoted to a single artist) only really works with and artistic personality capable of a varied outlook lest we become oppressed by the artist’s obsessions. Some of these concerti have not been published and clearly the two musicians have put much deep thought and research into their performance. Here is a Vivaldi with subtlety of expression, which also puts to good use all of this orchestra’s skill across the instruments without showing off. All the concerti are “for several instruments” with some instruments re-apearing as soloists with a consistent personality and characteristically written parts, but with something quite different to say in each concerto. The program is carefully arranged in a kind of cycle, giving the sense of music taking us on a journey.
The Sydney Omega Ensemble, as fairly young musicians, though with three members of the SSO’s wind section, in no way without experience, with help from the non-profit Ars Musica Australis, enjoys commissioning and playing new pieces from young Australian composers. They do so in many of their concerts, taking the tactic of mixing them in a program with traditional composers, rather than the all-together contemporary music festival approach. Even if the new pieces are only short, it obviously adds variety for the audience and players and fills in some of the difficult gap between conservatory student concerts and festivals and the commissions of more established composers by Musica Viva (for new chamber music) and the SSO, Australian Chamber Orchestra and Australian Ballet, etc. for new orchestral works, the orchestral works usually coming from the same handful of Australian composers. So it is a valuable little institution David Rowden, the Ensemble’s artistic director, founder and clarinetist, and company have run over the past few years.
One day Beethoven got up and went to the house of Dorothea Ertmann, a woman he clearly loved. Her child had died. She had lost her ability to speak. The composer sat at the fortepiano and played for her a concert of late Beethoven that no one else will ever hear. She began to speak. Beethoven thought of music as a changer of things—a power—at its most powerful, a healer. The tale insists that Beethoven spoke no word to Dorothea. Anecdote? There is good evidence. And think of that other more important evidence—the motto he wrote at the top of the Missa Solemnis: “from the heart, may it go to the heart.” Think of the fundamental importance that actual physical sound had for Beethoven, how he relates in the Heiligenstadt Testament that losing his ability to hear made him suicidal. (Think of this also the next time you hear an expert say that he can hear the Beethoven 9th better reading the score than he can in the concert hall.) What healed Dorothea was a performance. The whole occasion was about sound. She made none, Beethoven made the sacred sounds; she spoke.
Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra continue with the second in their triptych of Beethoven-Richard Strauss concerts which opens their 2012 season. Maestro Ashkenazy, their artistic director for the past few years who usually conducts himself several concerts at the beginning and end of the season (the Eternal Summer!), and the SSO seem to have established a warm and close rapport and respect, to judge from the jocular, playful exchanges and inaudible banter he shares with the orchestra members after the music, shaking hands with all the front-row strings after every concert, as well as from the fine and detailed interpretations they create together. Stephen Kovacevich brought a remarkable like-mindedness to this partnership. He also brought a complimentary attitude so that the concerto was a conversation beyond words between individual beings. The sound of his piano and what Kovacevich expressed therein had a remarkably immediate, very close presence, where often there is a wider gap between a guest soloist-virtuoso and the audience. Similarly the orchestra had a generous and open pellucid quality — not ever quite the homogeneously mixed and integrated sound of cogs in the the romantic-orchestral apparatus, nor exactly a contrasty orchestra of soloists, but something in-between those extremes and something else entirely which preserved the instruments’ characteristic timbres, at least section-wise, in an even-handed balance, a sound which can speak coherently in many different ways all at once. Kovacevich got through his childhood concert début some 60 years ago and so has nothing to prove, and his performance with Ashkenazy, himself a pianist, and now a conductor, of great experience, had deep maturity, but also at the same time a playful child-like quality, a surface insouciance rather more interested in the details and problems in the music which matter.
San Francisco sustained two palpable if not destructive earthquakes (3.9 and 4.0) on Thursday October 20th, and the memory lingered with me for a performance of the Verdi Requiem on Friday the 21st with the San Francisco Symphony and for a matinee performance of Saint-Saens’ Samson et Dalila with the West Bay Opera on Sunday the 23rd in Palo Alto.
Choose wisely what and how you imitate…. This may be the composer’s lesson to take away from last Tuesday’s much anticipated San Francisco visit by the Chicago Symphony, led by Riccardo Muti. Though Muti’s program concluded traditionally, with the Franck Symphony in D-minor, the first half of his concert was devoted to two pieces which undertake, with differing levels of success, the engineering of musical expression through depiction.