Old folk at lunch

Saturday, May 6, 2006

A Curate's Egg



Anne's sister plays the flute in an amateur orchestra and various of her relatives usually go along to the concerts in support. There was a concert on tonight and Anne asked me to come along with her. I asked about the program but when I was told that it was only about 50% classical, I declined politely. Anne however hinted that she might feel unloved if I did not come so I of course at that point crumbled like a sandcastle on a beach.

The concert was in a very well-appointed auditorium attached to a large Anglican school. The concert started well with a fanfare from Carmina Burana but then the talking began. Why amateur entertainments have to be preceded by rambling speeches I do not know. When I went recently to the Mozart Requiem concert given by a professional orchestra, not a word was spoken, as was once the unvarying tradition. Even at professional concerts these days, however, conductors do sometimes burst into prose. If I wanted speeches I would go to a lecture. I go to concerts for music.

There were both pleasant and unpleasant surprises in the music. I was looking forward to a performance of the well-known Schubert/Goethe Erlkoenig. It is a famous German poem so I even know snatches of the words from it. But on this occasion, there was no singer. To play German Lieder without a singer seems incomprehensible to me but it was a purely instrumental version that we got.

A more pleasant surprise was a performance of a movement from one of Bach's Brandenburg concertos. It was done by a saxophone ensemble! Crazy as such instrumentation sounds, it worked. What I particularly liked was that the continuo was done by a bass saxophone -- which was a lot of work for the bass saxophonist. The continuo is of course normally done by the harpsichord, which gets rather swamped by the other instruments. But the bass saxophone brought it up loud and clear.

Another surprise was a work I had never heard of: "River of the Ancients" by Michael Sweeney, a 1994 composition. Sweeney accomplished what was undoubtedly the secret goal of most 20th century composers -- to emulate Stravinsky. Lacking Stravinsky's talent, all of his emulators that I know of just made a noise -- but this Sweeney piece sounded like something from the master. So if you like Stravinsky (as I do), you now have another CD to chase up.

Anyway, the orchestra was surprisingly good. You would not really know that they were amateurs. The concert was organized so that most of the non-classical stuff was in the second half so Anne had mercy on me and we left at intermission.

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