Wednesday, March 02, 2005


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I had the greatest pleasure yesterday listening to the French National Orchestra perform at Emory. The conductor was Kurt Masur (who earlier had been Zubin Mehta's successor to the New York Philharmonic Orchestra) , the orchestra pianist was Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and the lead violinist was Sarah Nemtanu.

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All were excellent. Here's the program:

* Debussy, Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano
* Ravel, Piano Concerto in G Major (1929-31)
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano
* Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherazade, Op. 35
Sarah Nemtanu, solo violin

I have heard 'The flight of the bumble-bee' by Rimsky and 'Bolero' by Ravel, as well as the delectable 'Clair de Lune' by Debussy, surely one of the most enchanting pieces ever written for piano (remember the 'fountain music' at the end of 'Ocean's eleven'?), but apart from these, I had not heard anything else by these composers.

The first two pieces were very good, with Ravel's eccentric mischievousness showing well. I was reminded of Leopold Mozart's (Wolfgang's father's) 'Toy Symphony' where sudden overtures by least-expected instruments are the hallmark. Interestingly, some of the piano fill-ins sounded like jazz! Thibaudet played with amazing dexterity.

However, surely the high point of the evening was 'Scheherazade'. Based on the Arabian Nights, this marvelous piece combines traditional orchestra with occasional Persian tunes. In fact, the Persian tunes are a recurring theme in all the movements. Each movement is based on one particular tale told in the fascinating compendium of fantasy woven by the beautiful queen Scheherazade. But the real beauty of the piece is that these Persian tunes are merely fleeting glimpses, and lightly touch your soul before departing. They are never too explicit. That makes them a much desired object in the whole scheme of things. Because of this quality, they form a subtle but memorable and crucial companion to the underlying basic score; in fact they are hardly discernible from the basic score. The clarinet, the harp, the viola, and the bassoon among others, have been used to wonderful effect, and the french horn and the flute rounded off the movements with a skilful facility. The lead violin was the heart and soul of the theme, and Sarah Nemtanu was very good indeed.

At the end, an unexpected and pleasant surprise awaited us. The conductor came into the hall once more and directed his troupe for a final performance of 'The flight of the bumble-bee'!

All in all, a superb evening!

I do believe that classical music (Indian and Western) is definitely an acquired taste. While there are pieces that 'blow you away' instantly, a serious appreciation can only come with a lot of listening. Even though I have been listening to both Indian and Western classical for a long time, it still happens that I simply cannot appreciate a supposedly 'famous' piece when I hear it for the first time, and have to repeatedly listen to get the hang of it. I must confess that the first time I heard Beethoven's famed Late String Quartets, I almost fell asleep! (In my defence, it had been a long day and I was really tired...:-))


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Debussy is good! Pick up a CD on his String Quartets or Estampes.

2:58 AM  

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