martes, 29 de julio de 2008

Miraculous Bartok from Valencia Youth

A full symphony orchestra in full flight is a thoroughly rousing experience. When that is combined with a programme that offers contrasting style and form, the result is usually a treat. When the whole is also delivered with the enthusiasm of a youth orchestra, then joy also enters the equation.

I would not claim that the Valencian Youth Orchestra performed perfectly in Palau Altea last night, but their efforts were well beyond the creditable. Even the two conductors, Robert Ferrer for the first half and then Isaac González were rookies, the latter especially appearing to possess a talent that might mature to fame.

The band began with a concert hall regular, Weber’s Die Freischütz Overture. They played it well, not always accurately, but the relatively simple musical ideas were clear and the lines always joined up. The second work proved to be something of an enigma. I know nothing of the music of Manuel Palau, and unfortunately his Dramatic Concerto for Piano and Orchestra did little prompt further investigation. It was a confused piece, with the orchestra sounding all triadic and modal, like Vaughan Williams 80 years too late, while the soloist mingled styles reminiscent of Rachmaninov and Scriabin, interposed with highly chromatic clusters and even, in the third movement, introducing the opening descending chords of the Schumann concerto as a theme! The orchestra and soloist, Bartolomeu Jaume, played beautifully throughout, but the work let them down.

The second half began with a recently commissioned work by Miguel Gálvez-Taroncher. His Concerto for Orchestra was quite slow to take off, but take off it did. There was the influence of Kancheli, and also Berg. Small germs of music emerged, sometimes in high dissonance, to be passed around the orchestra’s sections. The giant band sported a veritable battery of percussion for this piece and the forces were eventually well used. The work was effectively a giant single climax, from a confused, quiet, chromaticism to a violent, thrashing, atonal quake. It might not prove to be memorable but it was an engaging, interesting and visceral experience. The composer took a bow.

Bela Bartok’s Miraculous Mandarin is a piece I have known for a long time, but listened to only infrequently. Though originally a ballet, it has rarely been staged outside the concert hall. Anyone who has read the story would understand why. Its sexually explicit plot involving a Chinaman who lights up after he has been hung by the neck from an electricity cable illustrates the challenge. It was 1918 in Central Europe, after all, post-Freud, expressionist and post-World War One. But what an experience! I was genuinely apprehensive about whether the youthful orchestra would be able to play its complex rhythms and fiendishly difficult ensembles. I need not have worried. They were faultless and extremely well rehearsed. When Bartok’s pounding rhythms, all assembled as a fugue, brought the piece to its frantic and exciting conclusion, it sounded as if the music had been driven off the edge of a cliff. Exhilarating! Good luck to the young players of the Valencia Youth Orchestra.

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