Saturday, April 27, 2013


Another full-blown week ... starting with a couple of repeats: a new visit to the hilarious The Dance of the Vampires and our fifth (already!) evening out tasting the delights at the Katz Orange. Followed by a home concert: I am being initiated into the joys of Schumann, Mendelssohn and Brahms.
The theatre visit was a special one, for we went in the company of author Michael Kunze and his wife, Roswitha, whom I last breakfasted with in Vienna … fourteen years ago, after flying up from Nice to see Michael’s musical Mozart. 

The show, of course, I’ve raved about before, but the new cast was very fine, and their diction was impeccable. Even I could understand. And that in spite of (or because of) the fact that the Russian and Hungarian leading players … don’t speak German!
And then on to last night. A delicious dinner of Nüremberg sausages and sauerkraut (Paul had spinach dumplings, mmm) at the must-do Augustiner Café, and then across the road, under threatening skies, to the beautiful Konzerthaus.

We’d chosen for our first visit this season a nice little programme of Janacek, Mahler and Debussy, being played under the umbrella of a Deutsche Dirigentenpreis: three young conductors competing for 35,000 euros. I always like competitions: both Paul and I were serial winners of such events in days of yore, although in my time the cash prizes were er …slightly less! And I’ve been a judge, in one form or another, quite a bit. Not, however, of conductors. That’s his field of expertise. So, let’s see..

Well, we encountered a problem. A competition does not always stand up as a concert, and this one didn’t. For one very good reason. We had around an hour and a quarter of enjoyable music … and more than twenty minutes, yes, read my lips, twenty minutes of balding men in suits, evidently unaccustomed to public speaking, wittering on, telling you what was already in the programme and … I imagine (for my German isn’t up to it) they were organiser and sponsor being ‘moment-of-glory’ish. Well, they ruined their own show. Any atmosphere of music created by the Janacek was utterly dissipated, any feeling of a concert was dissipated. It was just a contest run by men in suits. And you could doze off, through the yatter, until the music started again.

And the music. Number 1 conductrice chose the Janacek Cunning Little Vixen suite. A good choice. It’s made up of loads of little showpiece bits, with lots of changes of tempo, rhythm, style. Excellent for showing off one’s technique, and requiring no great emotion or depth. From my point of view – conductor performance – the lady annoyed me. She looked, from beginning to end, as if she had been choreographed by Marie Rambert (‘the arms, dear, remember the arms’) and was dancing to the music, ‘ballon de bras’ and all. I couldn’t help thinking of those little windmills we used to buy at country fairs…

Number 2, who had to pick up the show and wake the sleepers after the chat marathon chose Mahler’s ‘Totenfeier’. I had said to Paul beforehand, I’m going to be no good as a ‘judge’ here, I’ll just choose the loveliest piece of music. Well, this was it. The young man was a lot more modest, less flailing, and was evidently involved with this seriously emotional music. OK, even I could hear that occasionally there was a little slip: but here’s the contest problem. Do you choose something ambitious and have a wee accident, or do you choose something safe and do it perfectly. Both of us have always been type (a) – I once sang the whole Death of Boris Godunov in a teenage competition (and won!) – so I enjoyed this.
Number three was different again. You couldn’t accuse Debussy’s ‘La Mer’ of being easy or emotionless. The young lady conducted it very competently indeed, give or take too many imitations of a seagull, giving a wholly finished performance.
So what were the judges going to go for? The technique of No 1, the ambitious emotion and obvious promise of no 2, or the finished performance of No 3. No prizes for guessing which way I would have gone.
The other question was, were we going to stay to find out? Others weren’t. If the suits started talking again, we too would go home and look up the result later. Well, they didn’t. The President of the Jury briskly and pleasingly said a few words and then announced the winner. Janacek 1st, Debussy 2nd, Mahler 3rd.

The winner – Ms Kristiina Poska of Estonia and the Komische Oper – took up the baton and gave us a rousing version of a well-known Brahms Hungarian Dance, with no ballons de bras, which was a perfect ending to the night. We all went out humming it.

Well, it wasn’t quite the end of our night. We went out the wrong door, into pouring rain, and had to splash to the station, me hanging grimly to Paul’s arm with drips from the umbrella spraying my spine, and knowing my new espadrilles were dissolving under my feet …

Arrived at Nordbahnhof, there was nothing to do but pop into the good old Katz Orange for a warming nightcap and a wring out … and what do you know? There were Thomas H and Wolfgang and their friend Eva … and they had just been to Tippet’s ‘Child of our time’ at the Philharmonie …
So we stayed far too long (when the food service stops, you can smoke inside, so I have a sore throat this morning) and tiptoed the few yards home in the rain after a grand evening which even the men in suits hadn’t managed totally to spoil.

Note 1: Can we have a total ban in German concerts on anybody in a suit – or just plain anyone! – talking from the platform. You have a programme for information. It is pure ego trip.

Note 2: why did the two lady dirigents appear in a mock up of male attire? Black is fine --  it helps the conductor disappear – but why not a dress?

Note 3: to the Konzerthaus management. I love your hall, but I must protest about the treatment of Mendelssohn. I had Wagner staring over my shoulder all night and poor Felix is shut in the closet!

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