a little culture for ya

9 Nov

a few hours ago, brian and i went to the Konzerthaus Berlin to watch pierre boulez conduct the ensemble modern orchestra. only, when we got there, there was a sign saying something along the lines of–pierre boulez couldn’t make it due to illness or wasevehr, und so the conductor for the evening would be peter eotvos. now, if you’re gonna see a boulez understudy, it should probably be that guy. we didn’t deliberate long before deciding to go to the show anyway and, as luck would have it (an unnecessary cliche, huh?), an usher presented us with one comp ticket, so we basically paid half price.

now, i’d only ever seen orchestral music in denver colorodah, so imagine the overwhelming feelings i had upon entering this nearly-two-century-old stone building designed solely for making an orchestra sound good. there were all these carvings and chandeliers and gilt shit all over the place. from our seats in the first balcony, we could see busts all around of some of my fave composers, including my main man bartok and that schoenberg guy who we heard from a little bit tonight.

aside from the schoenberg pieces, we heard the german premieres, if i understand the program correctly, of brand neue musik by the young composers bruno mantovani (no, not that mantovani), jens joneliet, und johannes maria straud. the evening began with the mantovani piece, which i have no strong memory of. next was the joneleit piece which was perty fuckin good. i remember enjoying, in particular, a long section featuring fractured extended technique-stuff in the woodwinds and brass–lots of breathing through the instruments and so forth.

ok, cool. then they busted out schoenberg’s ‘5 pieces for orchestra,’ which has been a fave of mine ever since andrew played me an lp of robert craft conducting the work way back in the 50s. these pieces were composed in 1909, when schoenberg was still in his free atonal period, prior to his development of the 12-tone system. which means he had no compunction to prevent him from repeating material–so, one of my favorite parts is the celeste ostinato in the second piece–and it was wonderful to hear live.

intermission time. i knew the last piece had been ‘5 pieces…’, but we didn’t have a program so didn’t know about the first two. so brian bought one off the pretty usher girl with the berlin hipster-haircut. ah, ok, we heard this and this, next will be that and this. brian translated for me some of the program, which talked about boulez’ early polemical days, publishing in 1951 the essay ‘schoenberg est mort‘ while the man was still alive. dude had a lot to prove, but it would have been more interesting to call attention to this if it were actually m. boulez conducting…

back from intermission, up comes the staud piece, ‘contrebande (on comparative meteorology ii).’ holy shit. i mean, i’d been enjoying the evening, but this piece is incredible. the part where the percussionists hit clusters on their pitched instruments and the violins hit the same notes, then glissando downward, bending your ear’s sense of what the ‘right’ note is… just the attention to tone color is amazing. all these match-ups of different timbres from different sections playing the same notes, then the notes somehow bending out of tune into a different harmonic area… wow. this dude is doing something. guy’s only 10 years older than me. keep an eye on him, dear reader.

and the grand finale–another schoenberg piece, ‘variations for orchestra’ from the mid-1920’s. the man was firmly, now, into his dodecaphonic period. my mind racing with excitement and musical possibilities from the previous piece, i had trouble concentrating. but the music was good and expertly performed. oh man, to hear an orchestra play so well was a real treat. i’d never walked away from a classical concert pumped about music. tonight was the first time. that’s all. i hope you’re doing well, america.


2 Responses to “a little culture for ya”

  1. Phillip November 9, 2010 at 4:39 am #

    There nothing like it Ian, glad you got the opportunity.

  2. Mo November 13, 2010 at 7:32 am #

    You’re a dodecaphonic period.

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