Chetana Nagavajara

Just came back from an afternoon concert at the Konzerthaus, Berlin, starting at 16:00. Just about the right time for me, because I just can’t cope with a temperature of -4 C when an evening concert finishes. Patricia Kopatchinskaya is known for her virtuosity as well as platform mannerisms. We had both today (13 November 16). I had never heard a live performance of the Schumann Violin Concerto and went to the concert with high expectations. Arriving early to read the programne notes, especially the story about the miscarriages that accounted for the concerto not being performed during the composer’s lifetime, I could not help feeling that we know too much about the genesis, or non-genesis, of the work that coud well distract the violinist. And that was what did happen. The soloist was trying to help the composer too much, exaggerating both the tempi and the dynamic. The slow movement was played so softly throughout such that it almost became inaudible at times. Playing modern and contemporary music too often can mar a soloist’s rendition of Romantic music. Ivan Fischer was trying to be as helpful as he could: at certain points, he forgot his role and was conducting her. But she was too adamant. Had she taken the cue from him as to how to approach Schumann, she might have delivered a more convincing performance. I am not joking, the most enjoyable parts of the concerto were the orchestral tutti. I would have loved to hear Fischer conduct a Schumann symphony.

The concert started with the premiere of Friedrich Cerha’s (born 1926) “Skizzen”, a series of short movements, most enjoyable. Such a variety of moods and orchestral colours. If you like Debussy, Bartok and Stravinsky, you will definitely like this contemporary Austrian composer. The orchestra played it with such conviction as if it were a piece familiar to it. Let’s face it. We owed it to the conductor that the premiere came off so well.

No need to say much about Ivan Fischer’s interpretation of Beethoven IV. Two weeks ago in a matinee concert, he gave us Beethoven II. He managed to dispel the myth about the even numbers and the odd numbers of the symphonies. A Beethoven symphony is a world unto itself. Such depths of human experience unfolded in a world of sounds. Words fail me as to how Fischer and his musicans could turn a musical experience into a spiritual experience. It sounded convincing. “This is it,” I said to myself. And Fischer is leaving Berlin next year. What dirty politics has driven him away? When I heard him conduct the London Symphony in Bangkok over 30 years ago, I could sense that he would mature into a great conductor. Beethoven is the test. If you can’t conduct Beethoven, you have failed the entire exam. A British conductor, seconded to the Bangkok Symphony, once said, “I don’t like Beethoven.” I don’t have to evaluate his overall performance. He was wasting his time, and also OUR time.

By the way, if you want to hear a performance of the Schumann Violin Concerto that proves the greatness of the composer – and of the performer, go to YOUTUBE. Alberto Lysy was playing it with an unknown orchestra. Every note was an unrivalled and unforgetable experience! Well, he played it straight.


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