3 Feb 2010

A fishy musical linguine delight

Despite my best efforts, the eleven minute dash on my bike from the studio after last night’s Channel 4 News to London’s Royal Festival Hall, only graced me with the echoes of the last chords of Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto.

To have missed Daniel Barenboim’s exuberant performance so closely, felt like an act of sacrilege.

The programme promised a second half of the concert devoted to Schoenberg’s Variations for Orchestra, Op.31. There was something identified as an “illustrated talk” on the programme, before the performance of the work itself.

Barenboim bounced onto the stage and proceeded to talk his Staatskapelle Orchestra from Berlin into illustrative splashes of the theme as he led us humorously and imaginatively through each of the variations.

I have always found Schoenberg a bit like a dense sea food linguine – a mass of tangled chords leavened with delicious moments of scallop-like highlights. In short, I have never understood a bar of the stuff.

But last night transported in the hands of this amazing man, the scales fell from my ears. First the cellos ground out the four note theme, then the double bases. Somehow there it was, to be retrieved in every variation whatever the cacophony of sound that surrounded it.

Come the performance itself, the packed thousand-strong audience was spellbound, craning to detect the musical path Barenboim had prepared for us.

And there it was, large as life, augmented by what had once sounded like a series of high decibel road accidents, the music finally made sense.

Electrified, the entire audience leapt to its feet at the end in a most un-British standing ovation.

It dawned upon me that Barenboim, whose endless orchestral pursuit of bridge building in the Middle East, manifest in the West East Divan Orchestra of Israeli and Palestinian players, would be a very fit recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

It’s a long time since I last interviewed him, but it seems in the years since I last saw him close up, he has lost none of his energy and commitment. He would leave a few other Nobel recipients in the shade.

By the way here’s an unprecedented cross promotion – you can catch the entire Barenboim four night run of Beethoven’s piano Concerto’s and works by Shoenberg on BBC Radio 3 starting tonight!

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6 reader comments

  1. Meg Howarth says:

    Thanks for the tip re R3, and for confirmation of my hunch: that the smart suit you were wearing on the news last night indicated a post-studio appointment.

  2. Nuria Schoenberg Nono says:

    I agree with you absolutely. When I heard the Variations at La Scala in Milan, Daniel did the same thing and the Italian audience had the same reaction as you did. It is intelligent to show people what they should listen for in music which is different from what they are used to hearing. I wish performers could do it more often and with Daniel’s talent!

  3. margaretBrandreth- Jones says:

    Firstly where do you park your bike?
    Secondly , thats exact isn’t it 11 mins.!
    Finally my music teacher informed me that Shoenberg’s music , marked the boundary for modern music in the west. That is where it all went wrong… no just jesting. I find it hard to understand . but have watched Daniel Baarenboim with interest for years.. but alas wasn’t enlightened last night.

  4. Jim Flavin says:

    I agree – Barenboim would be an excellent choice for Nobel Prize – light years apart from this years recipent . I liseten R3 Breakfast most mornings – and preenter metioned the Progs etc – tho I would find it difficult in a blind test to tell Pianists apart – I think most would – maybe its like the wines – swap the labeles etc – anyway I look forward to prog tonight

  5. margaretBrandreth- Jones says:

    Couldn’t face any futher intellectualisation about music. Musicology to be has always been physical. At the age of 21 I started working on Coronary Care unit. Staring at scopes made me aware of how closely the heart beat and music are intertwined. The moods , the electrical firing in rhythms and dysrhythmmias,the volume the magnitude , so forth and so on.
    I felt far too delicate to go under the musical hammer of shoenberg and opted for Micheal Jackson and the messages being sent out on ITV 2.

    Steve Reich’s music I admire with all its contemporary virtues . Shoenberg ? another day when excercising the grey matter becomes more important.

  6. margaret BrandrethJones says:

    have just been on Cathy Newmans fact check and just done a quick resume of corruption “biz “in the NHS and associated spending… forgot to put e mail address in ,so s*d it, will have seafood pasta instead.

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