Thursday, January 24, 2008

Intense Lyricism

Having to acquaint myself with Mahler's colossal Symphony No. 3 in a day and a half is no mean feat. The approximately-90-minute long work (longest among all his symphonies) can be incredibly beautiful and taxing on the same time when I listen to two full runs in the same day. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra will be having a local premiere of this transcendental masterpiece this Saturday evening, and of course, I've grabbed a first class seat for this concert. I'll probably be doing a review of this concert as well, which will also be for an essay required in a module which I'm taking in university. (As you may have inferred, the essay is secondary here. Screw the academic essays, my appreciation of the concert comes first.)

Besides a decadent indulgence in Mahler today, I got to listen to a couple of my favourite works later in the evening in a most insightful masterclass by Keng Yuen Tseng, the Yong Siew Toh Chair in Violin at the Peabody Institute of the John Hopkins University. He is no doubt a most passionate mentor who goes the extra mile just to draw out the best out of the students.

A very young and talented violinist, whom I shall name PonytailGirl here, started off the masterclass with one of my favourite Schubert pieces, Sonatina in D (D. 384). It was quite a surprise and relief knowing that this piece is on the masterclass list of music, especially after having a lunch date with a megalomaniac Mahler (of course, an exceptional megalomaniac with an immense depth). It isn't a big work, but a beautiful and precious gem among Schubert's output nonetheless. That's some more passionate lyricism for me after two full runs of Mahler 3rd! The insightful advice by Keng Yuen Tseng did much to draw out an additional depth to PonytailGirl's already beautiful interpretation of the music. Despite being well acquainted with Schubert's music for the past three years of my life, it's simply surprising how I still manage to gain new insights to a Schubert work which I have listened to on countless occasions.

SloppyLookingBoy played the dramatically lyrical 1st movement of Brahms' Violin Concerto in D major (Op. 77). I was hoping that his playing wouldn't be as sloppy as he was dressed, but unfortunately, it wasn't so. Still, it was quite a mean feat for a student to complete the entire 1st movement which was unbelievably demanding, given the fact that Brahms wasn't a violinist and didn't understand much about the violin to write a violin concerto. Thankfully, I was enamored by something else throughout his masterclass session - the accompaniment. SloppyLookingBoy's accompanist played the accompaniment for PonytailGirl as well. Both pieces were of contrasting characters, despite both being romantic pieces, which were still deeply rooted in the classical style. Schubert was mostly light, lyrical and uplifting while Brahms was mostly deep, dramatic and dark. The sensitivity which she exhibited was nothing short of mind-blowing. In Schubert, she was an equal with the violin. The chemistry between both instruments was immensely captivating. In Brahms, she was the orchestra. Her fingers drew out the timbres of the various instrumentation as much as the Steinway allowed. It caught my attention in this particular piece due to the orchestration of Brahms. His beautiful melodic lines didn't belong solely to the solo violin, but to various important orchestral instruments as well, notably the oboe, cellos and double basses. The various charming melodic lines were handled with the utmost sensitivity by the accompanist. At the same time, she took extra care not to overpower SloppyLookingBoy and accommodated the most awkward tempo changes by SloppyLookingBoy with extreme delicacy. In some cases when the violin took centre stage, she was an empty vessel, helping the violin to shine by absorbing SloppyLookingBoy's style completely. In other cases when she had her solo parts, her musicality and depth were nothing short of breathtaking. It was a rare epiphanic moment when I witnessed such musicality and depth being summoned and repressed at will in order to help the soloist to shine. That was truly a first class accompanist whom I had come across this evening.

The third was IndulgentGirl, who played Wieniawski's Violin Concerto No. 2 in D min (Op. 22). I always have an unexplained fascination for Polish composers, besides Chopin. Ironically, it wasn't Chopin who started this unexplained fascination with Polish composers (he is in a class of his own), but Henryk Górecki with his Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, Op. 36). I'll leave this work to another time or I'll spend an additional 3 hours in front of my computer. Subsequently, it was Krzysztof Penderecki, with his Symphony No. 7 (Seven Gates of Jerusalem) and Threnody. Not forgetting Karol Szymanowski with his 2 Violin Concertos. I got acquainted with Wieniawski in the midst of this period of fascination with Polish composers and I fell in love with a couple of his works since then. This Violin Concerto No. 2 is one of them and it's a most pleasant surprise to have it on the masterclass list this evening and also to end my day with. IndulgentGirl was technically proficient and musically mature, and it was a pleasure to hear her perform this entire work this evening. It was just different having this masterpiece being performed live! The experience was completely breathtaking (despite having the orchestra being reduced to a piano part on a Steinway) and it sounds like a completely new work to me, with the resonation of the violin penetrating straight into my soul. Recorded music is just different, no matter how good my speakers are.

All in all, it was a musically, emotionally and spiritually demanding yet immensely satisfying day, with all the music which I was deeply drawn into. Now that I'm penning all my reflections down well after midnight with just the quiet sounds of the night in the background, I realise the musical journey which I have randomly embarked on today was simply strange. From Austrian and German composers and, finally ending with a lesser known but no less beautiful Polish masterpiece...


Ben Clapton said...

What a fantastic day! I must say, you heard some of my favourite composers. Mahler is a fantastic composer, and any day where you hear even a movement of one of his works is a good day. My only criticism is that he didn't write anything small - no string quartets, no violin sonatas.
Brahms is another of my favourites, and while the concerto is a great work, personally, I'm a fan of his Violin sonatas. But again, a day where you hear some Brahms is evidently a good day.
And Weiniawski! Ahh, I can fully appreciate your love of Polish composers.

What a fantastic day! I'm so jealous, I might just have to listen to my favourite CD at the moment - Janine Jansen playing the Mendelssohn and Bruch violin concertos.

oceanskies79 said...

Sounds like a musically satisfying day in some ways. I hope you have had a good time listening to the SSO playing Mahler's Third Symphony today. It is rare to hear this work being played in Singapore, as best as I am aware.

solitudex said...

Hi Ben Clapton. Just my sentiments exactly! I wished Mahler had written much smaller works. It's difficult to hear his works being performed as well.

And I have to admit that Brahms' Violin Sonatas speak to me more than his Violin Concerto does, though the latter no doubt still a marvellous work on its own. Maybe taste really aren't as subjective as it seems to be!

The Mendelssohn Violin Concerto is just a beautiful masterpiece too! Pardon my ignorance in the Bruch Violin Concerto. Shall acquire it in the near future.

Glad to hear that we share the love for some of the greatest composers. And that's a great site you have over there! Thanks for sharing some of the tips which are commonly overlooked by many practising musicians.


Hi Oceanskies! It was a musically edifying day. Thanks! Mahler 3rd was great! Glad that it was finally premiered here in Singapore, almost a full century after his death! Did you manage to catch it?