Sunday, July 20, 2014

Mozarteumorchester Salzburg – Manfred Honeck, conductor. July 20, 2014.

Stiftung Mozarteum, Grosser Saal.  Orchestra (Row 19, Seat 8, 89 Euro.)

Program – Mozart Matinee
Symphony in D Major KV504, “Prague Symphony” (1787) by Mozart (1756-1791).
Regina coeli in C Major KV108 (1771).
Mass in C Major KV317, “Coronation” (1779).

Eva Liebau, soprano; Judith Schmid, alto; Mauro Peter, tenor; Thomas E. Bauer, bass.
Salzburger Bachchor, Alois Glassner, artistic director.

We are on vacation with our son and his family.  With an 18-month toddler, our days have been slow, which suit us just fine.  Our son was doing the trip planning, and he has us coming to Salzburg on July 19.  Turns out that was the start of this year’s Salzburg Festival.  Anne and I were originally planning to go to one of these touristy type Mozart concerts, and then we found out there were still a few reasonably priced seats available for this concert, so we walked to the ticket office and got (probably) the last two tickets at 89 Euros each.  Tickets at the next tier would have cost 116 Euros each.

We had a little debate on whether we wanted to go to a “genuine” Salzburg festival concert.  We only have tourist clothes, and for some reason people dress up to go to concerts, even more so than what I remember of other European cities (Zurich, Vienna, Paris, London; I think that’s it.)  Actually some even put on lederhosen and dirndls.  We decided we wouldn’t let that bother us.  We also wanted to check off this “Salzburg Festival” as an event we attended.  It turns out with a polo shirt and khaki pants I was probably the third worst dressed man in the audience (the worst had on a black T-shirt and shorts.)  Anne was in the 20th percentile, let’s say.

The hall seats perhaps 1000, and it was mostly full; we did see an empty seat here and there.  The place looks newly renovated, and is remarkably well-lit.  Not bad for a hall that is about 100 years old (the outside shows the age.)

We ended up enjoying the program very much.  We saw Honeck once when he substituted for Dudamel in a performance with the New York Philharmonic.  Referring to my blog, I enjoyed that performance, calling his interpretation controlled and nuanced.

Today’s performance was also enjoyable, but Honeck’s conducting style was neither controlled nor nuanced.  He actually let it rip, conducting with great motion and eliciting a great sound from the performers.  I usually like Mozart light and crisp, but I didn’t mind the huge amount of stomping today.  No doubt the small size of the hall helped: the acoustics was great.  While Honeck asked for a huge dynamic range from the orchestra, at no point was it too loud.

The soloists are all from this part of Europe.  They did a good job, with great balance among the voices.  The soprano Liebau had to do most of the lifting (only soloist in Regina Coeli, and several solos in the Coronation Mass.)

The choir is rather large, especially considering the size of the orchestra.  Again perhaps due to the size of the hall, their sound carried very well.

The Symphony has three movements: Adagio – Allegro, Andante, and Finale: Presto.  The Mass consists of Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei.

Curtain Call.  Notice the number of cameras out.

I also learned a few new things.  First is that Mozart wrote quite a bit of sacred music, but I believe this was my first encounter with it.  He did it mostly as an obligation to his patron the Archbishop of Salzburg whom Mozart disliked.  A short mass (missa brevis) was used in a church service while the longer mass (missa solemnis) was more a pure form of composition.

I resisted but yet must give in to remark how today’s performers compare with ones I know a bit better.  First is the comparison of the orchestra with Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra.  While I have gotten to appreciate the MM Orchestra more over the years (and just bought tickets to 3 concerts yesterday,) today’s performance was better than what I have heard from MM.  In MM’s defense they have a wider repertoire.  The other comparison is between the Bach choirs of Salzburg and Bethlehem.)  Here there is no contest: Salzburg wins hands down.

I continue to be unable to tell a good Mozart performance from a great one.  So what?  This was a really enjoyable concert, and that’s good enough for me.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

American Ballet Theatre – Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. June 27, 2014.

Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center.  Balcony (Seat F105, $65.)

Choreography by Kevin McKenzie after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, Set and costumes by Zack Brown.

Conductor – Ormsby Wilkins; Odette-Odile – Hee Seo, Prince Siegfried – Herman Cornejo, The Queen Mother – Nancy Raffa, von Rothbart  - Roman Zhurbin and Alexandre Hammoudi.

We came about seeing this ballet in a rather round-about way.  It started with our asking Kimberly – a 10-year old girl from church who takes dance lessons – whether she would like to see Cinderella (the ballet.)  The timing didn’t work out because school was still in session when Cinderella was on, so Anne and I went by ourselves.  This particular performance worked out for her (school concluded the day before,) and I don’t mind seeing it another time.  We ended up going with Kimberly and Agnes.

Hee Seo, who debuted Cinderella earlier this season, was tapped to perform the role of the swan as the guest artist Alina Cojocaru withdrew because of an injury.  Which was perfectly okay with me, as I hadn’t looked into who was going to be in the performance anyway.  Also, one of the two dancers playing von Rothbart (Sascha Radetsky) was replaced.

I did enjoy the performance.  First of all, the music while a bit sugary is very pleasant to hear.  It is one of these ballet scores that can stand on its own.  This is not a given as my experience with Prokofiev’s Cinderella indicates.  The orchestra put in an enjoyable experience.  There are some very familiar passages that get repeated quite often; and I noticed the violinist stood up for the violin solos.

Even though roles such as Prince Siegfried are quite substantial, Odette and Odile are the ballet.  I don’t know if ballerinas keep a few compositions in their repertoire in the way concert soloists do, but Seo put in a performance that one wouldn’t have guessed is by a (last-minute?) substitute.  At least not to a novice observer like myself.  The choreography calls for many dreamy scenes where the dancers imitate swans with the positioning of their arms and bodies.  Even though I am sure everyone does it that way, I must say it works quite well.

Sometimes it seems I sit through a 3-hour opera just so I can hear a couple of familiar arias (Nessum Dorma in Turandot, for instance.)  Similarly, the scene where Odile spins around 30-odd times is the one that’s most anticipated.  Seo did an excellent job, pirouetting more than 30 times.  She did it with some movement around the stage, and I thought she ended a bit wobbly.  I located a clip in Youtube (performed by ABT’s principal dancer Gillian Murphy, starting at around the 4:19 mark) that was simply impressive.  So there is a difference in the level of performance, after all.

How did Kimberly like it?  Well, the first half was a bit difficult, and I was ready to propose we leave if she found it unbearable.  She wanted to stay, and I lent her our binoculars.  She stayed glued to them the whole second half.  Being able to see more clearly, and the simple fact that there is more action in the second half, make it much more enjoyable.

Traffic was reported to be bad when we were driving into New York.  After picking up Anne in Jersey City, we decided to park the car and take PATH into the city.  That unfortunately left us with enough time for only sandwiches at Europan.  By the time we got back to South Amboy, it was past 11:30 pm.