I used mostly my ears

a blog about music by Marc Haegeman


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The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Brussels

Richard Wagner: Tristan and Isolde – Prelude and Liebestod
Ingvar Lidholm: Poesis
Antonín Dvořák: Symphony #9 in E minor “From the New World”, Op. 95

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Herbert Blomstedt
Brussels, Centre for Fine Arts, 22 January 2016

This concert of Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) at the Brussels Center for Fine Arts marked the inauguration of the Dutch presidency of the Council of the European Union. A feisty event, attended by both the Dutch and Belgian royal couples and a host of excellencies – which accounted for an impossibly 30 minutes late start, but also proved for a city still in the throes of terrorist activity aimed at our way of life, that things can be normal after all.

And what better way is there to escape from grim-visaged reality than a concert with great music that sublimates our cultural achievements? The RCO was conducted by the veteran Swedish maestro Herbert Blomstedt. At 88 years and 7 months Blomstedt is, incidentally, the oldest guest conductor in the history of the orchestra, even surpassing the legendary Pierre Monteux who was “only” 88 and 4 months. Not that anybody would have been aware of this, because the vivid and impish personality of the Swede totally belied his age just as much as his music making. Conducting without a baton, and for most of the concert, from memory, Blomstedt offered a finely contrasting program with two popular works, Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde and Dvořák’s “From the New World”, framing a modern rarity (although “modern” here is already well over 50 years old too) Poesis from the Swedish composer Ingvar Lidholm (b. 1921).

From the opening Tristan it became clear that while Blomstedt would treat us generously to the beauty of the RCO – and he knows more than anybody to use that beauty in a constructive way – he would also keep everything solidly under control. One can imagine a more emotional Wagner, or indeed a more immediately dramatic one, yet Blomstedt capitalized fully on the silken strings and the mellow woodwinds of the RCO to let the lyricism of Tristan speak with unforced eloquence in some breathtaking crescendos.

While the orchestra was being rearranged, Blomstedt undeterred by the presence of royalty, picked up a microphone and introduced, in an often hilarious manner – vocal imitations and his familiar reference to mushrooms haphazardly growing in the forest and all – Ingvar Lidholm’s piece Poesis. Composed for the 50th anniversary of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic in 1963 and premiered by Blomstedt the following year, its experimental and seemingly chaotic modernity stood in stark contrast to the melodious, organized world of the preceding Wagner. Poesis remains a striking 20-minute sonic exploration, with startling crescendos and virtuosic solos, often challenging the orchestra to extremes and creating sound in unconventional ways, like dropping the lid prop of the piano or rustling sandpaper. Blomstedt clearly adores the work and just as in Tristan he was able to inspire the RCO musicians to sound their best. In the end, Poesis was a great deal of fun, with in particular superb solo passages from piano (Jeroen Bal), double bass and percussion.

Dvořák’s Ninth received an elegant but powerful, and often stunningly beautiful reading. Tempi were well-judged throughout, dynamics were controlled, yet if there was an emotion that Blomstedt was willing to share it seems to have been one of joy. I don’t recall hearing such an optimistic, sunny reading of the opening Allegro molto with lightly sprung rhythms, delicate textures and deft phrasing. Even the Largo, swiftly but attractively played, didn’t linger too much on melancholy or longing. This was mostly happy Dvořák, the “New World” symphony as a masterful continuation of In Nature’s Realm, admiring nature in all its richness of color and tones. The closing movement, with irresistible drive, was a logical culmination of joy. And how many times can you hear such a tight ensemble, such well-judged orchestral balance and transparency, and such colorful instrumentalists? The RCO brass, particularly the horns, were simply glorious.

The audience greeted orchestra and conductor with a well-deserved standing ovation. Blomstedt offered a Slavonic dance in return, naturally one of the most lifting ones, the fast Op. 46/1 in C Major. The RCO is a fabulous orchestra as Blomstedt was readily reminding us. He sent us home with a big smile, and what more can one ask, even if deep down we realized that this orchestra has even more in store than we were given tonight.

Copyright © 2016, Marc Haegeman

First published on Classical Net  (http://www.classical.net/music/recs/reviews/haegeman/20160122-brussels-rco-blomstedt.php)


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Gergiev Reunited with Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw

Henri Dutilleux: Métaboles
Jean Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47
Sergei Prokofieff: Symphony #5 in B Flat Major, Op. 100

Leonidas Kavakos, violin
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
Brussels, Centre for Fine Arts, March 18, 2012

For being one of the world’s most sought-after conductors whose budding career moreover got a serious boost in the Netherlands back in the late 1980s with among others televised concerts, Valery Gergiev hasn’t been seen much at the helm of the country’s most illustrious ensemble, Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. He got firm ground in Rotterdam, crowned by an annual “Rotterdam Philharmonic Gergiev Festival”, but Amsterdam has reportedly always been a love/hate affair. The short tour this March with a program of 20th-century music and concerts in Amsterdam, Paris and Brussels reunited the Russian maestro with the Concertgebouw Orchestra after a break of more than 15 years.
Read the full review on Classical Net


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Brazil Festival in Amsterdam

Manuel de Falla: Noches en los jardines de España
Darius Milhaud: Suite Op. 81a from La Création du Monde, Le boeuf sur le toit, Op. 58
Maurice Ravel: Pavane pour une infante défunte, Boléro

Nelson Freire, piano
Royal Concertgebouw Ochestra/Iván Fischer
Amsterdam, Concertgebouw, 16 October 2011

As part of the Brazil Festival in Amsterdam, which offers for two months a rich sample of art forms ranging from dance, visual arts, film and architecture to economics, gastronomy, theatre and music, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Iván Fischer programmed a remarkable concert of, well, not Brazilian music, but at least music partly inspired by it. More than anything, however, it was a marvelous opportunity to see and hear a great orchestra letting its hair down and sharing a great deal of fun.
Read the full review on Classical Net