Author Topic: Prom 63 2009: Xenakis, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich  (Read 3894 times)

Offline JSC

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Prom 63 2009: Xenakis, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich
« on: September 01, 2009, 04:19:32 pm »
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With its 98 players dispersed among the audience, Xenakis's Nomos gamma should make a stunning Proms piece, not least as the final drumrolls from its eight percussionists ricochet around the Arena. Both Aïs – a searing setting of ancient Greek texts by Homer and Sappho, with a wildly wide-ranging vocal line – and Rachmaninov's Stygian tone-poem, composed a century ago, confront the transience of life and the finality of death, while Shostakovich's 1945 Ninth seems almost to laugh off the horrors of war.

Xenakis Nomos gamma (15 mins)
Rachmaninov The Isle of the Dead (20 mins)
interval
Xenakis Aïs (18 mins)
Shostakovich Symphony No 9 in E flat major (25 mins)

Leigh Melrose baritone
Colin Currie percussion
BBC Symphony Orchestra
David Robertson conductor
I thought the BBC's preferred spelling was 'Rakhmaninov', but apparently not.

Anyone else going to this?
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Selva Oscura

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Re: Prom 63 2009: Xenakis, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich
« Reply #1 on: September 01, 2009, 05:26:46 pm »
Anyone else going to this?

I'm planning to go to the same programme at the Philharmonie on Friday evening (so I won't get to hear every note twice like you will  :cool: ).

Offline Notoriously Bombastic

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Re: Prom 63 2009: Xenakis, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich
« Reply #2 on: September 01, 2009, 11:43:52 pm »
As tonight's DSCH 10 proved, just one drum is capable of ricocheting around the RAH.

How much space do you expect there to be in the arena JSC?  There were warning notices up tonight about reduced allocations, and I can't get to Albertopolis that early to queue.

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Offline JSC

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Re: Prom 63 2009: Xenakis, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich
« Reply #3 on: September 02, 2009, 01:27:18 am »
How much space do you expect there to be in the arena JSC?  There were warning notices up tonight about reduced allocations, and I can't get to Albertopolis that early to queue.
I'm not really the person to ask - I usually turn up at the last minute for everything. Thanks for mentioning the notices though. As it happens I think Nouritza Matossian is giving a pre-concert talk about Xenakis tomorrow so I'll probably go to that and try to grab a raffle ticket beforehand.

Unless Ruth knows any more? I hope the Arena's not going to be as hard to get into as it was for Gruppen in last season's Stockhausen Prom. >:(
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Offline Ruth Elleson

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Re: Prom 63 2009: Xenakis, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich
« Reply #4 on: September 02, 2009, 07:50:12 am »
They have already removed the fountain and criss-crossed the Arena with a web of white gaffer tape to delineate promming and performing areas in preparation for tonight's concert. The warning signs about reduced Arena space also mentioned that people would be required to sit rather than stand in certain parts of the Arena, to preserve the performers' sightlines, and that they were going to be strict about people taking excess baggage in with them.

I'm not sure how it compares space-wise with the Stockhausen as I wasn't there (and won't, I don't think, be there tonight - too many other things to do, I'm afraid) but I would imagine that acoustically it will be a great advantage to be as near the centre (where the fountain usually is) as possible. I gather that was the case with the Stockhausen too. Therefore I'd suggest getting there as early as you can, as that's not a large area...
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Offline alywin

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Re: Prom 63 2009: Xenakis, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich
« Reply #5 on: September 02, 2009, 01:53:01 pm »
They have already removed the fountain and criss-crossed the Arena with a web of white gaffer tape to delineate promming and performing areas in preparation for tonight's concert. The warning signs about reduced Arena space also mentioned that people would be required to sit rather than stand in certain parts of the Arena, to preserve the performers' sightlines, and that they were going to be strict about people taking excess baggage in with them.

Thanks.  Those of us up in the Gallery were wondering about the "airport runway" markings last night :)

Selva Oscura

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Re: Prom 63 2009: Xenakis, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich
« Reply #6 on: September 04, 2009, 10:51:20 pm »
So who did go to this concert? I went to it tonight (late as usual).

The opening Nomos Gamma I found totally gripping. The experience is nothing like Gruppen: Xenakis has the strings onstage (which in the Philharmonie is a little way off the centre of the space) and everyone else distributed to random (?) points in the audience and around the periphery. (How was this done in the RAH?) The result was that the entire hall was filled with sound one moment, reduced to a lone contrabassoon somewhere in the gallery the next, and the whole was punctuated by bursts of drumming from everywhere. I'd listened to a recording a couple of days ago but this (along with the opening minute or so of the concert, when I thought the woodwinds weren't taking their impossible glissandi seriously enough) led me to expect to be underwhelmed, whereas in fact I was pretty much over-.

Rachmaninov in The Isle of the Dead sounded in comparison like pedestrian, unmemorable, unsubtle, lifeless sludge.

I've heard Xenakis' Aïs with three different vocal soloists and this time, though the orchestra played magnificently (as did Colin Currie after a hesitant start where he and David Robertson seemed to have a momentary disagreement about tempo), I wasn't so keen on Leigh Melrose's approach, much more operatic-sounding than that of Spyros Sakkas, for whom it was written and who must have performed it dozens of times. Melrose can do all the ululating falsetto stuff, and his baritone register is much stronger than Sakkas', but I couldn't help feeling he comes at the idiom from the outside and doesn't get all the way in. Still, it was a powerful and moving piece as ever.

I wasn't expecting to like the Shostakovich 9 as much as I did (or for the finale theme to get stuck into my brain all the way home), although as I think I said before I think no.15 would have fitted the programme better.

So a mostly good evening. The Philharmonie was I would say about 80% full, which would mean almost two thousand people. I overheard a man sitting behind me remark to his companion something like "I've watched BBC television occasionally but I had no idea they had an orchestra that could play this kind of music."

Offline ahinton

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Re: Prom 63 2009: Xenakis, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich
« Reply #7 on: September 05, 2009, 09:11:46 am »
So who did go to this concert? I went to it tonight (late as usual).

The opening Nomos Gamma I found totally gripping. The experience is nothing like Gruppen: Xenakis has the strings onstage (which in the Philharmonie is a little way off the centre of the space) and everyone else distributed to random (?) points in the audience and around the periphery. (How was this done in the RAH?) The result was that the entire hall was filled with sound one moment, reduced to a lone contrabassoon somewhere in the gallery the next, and the whole was punctuated by bursts of drumming from everywhere. I'd listened to a recording a couple of days ago but this (along with the opening minute or so of the concert, when I thought the woodwinds weren't taking their impossible glissandi seriously enough) led me to expect to be underwhelmed, whereas in fact I was pretty much over-.

Rachmaninov in The Isle of the Dead sounded in comparison like pedestrian, unmemorable, unsubtle, lifeless sludge.

I've heard Xenakis' Aïs with three different vocal soloists and this time, though the orchestra played magnificently (as did Colin Currie after a hesitant start where he and David Robertson seemed to have a momentary disagreement about tempo), I wasn't so keen on Leigh Melrose's approach, much more operatic-sounding than that of Spyros Sakkas, for whom it was written and who must have performed it dozens of times. Melrose can do all the ululating falsetto stuff, and his baritone register is much stronger than Sakkas', but I couldn't help feeling he comes at the idiom from the outside and doesn't get all the way in. Still, it was a powerful and moving piece as ever.

I wasn't expecting to like the Shostakovich 9 as much as I did (or for the finale theme to get stuck into my brain all the way home), although as I think I said before I think no.15 would have fitted the programme better.

So a mostly good evening. The Philharmonie was I would say about 80% full, which would mean almost two thousand people. I overheard a man sitting behind me remark to his companion something like "I've watched BBC television occasionally but I had no idea they had an orchestra that could play this kind of music."
I'm surprised that no one else has commented on this Prom after it. I couldn't go and have only been able to "listen again" through the little tin boxes on my computer screen which is a particularly bad way to try to get to grips with Nomos Gamma which I've never previously heard, but I still got something of its immediacy and vibrancy. I can't agree with you about the Rakhmaninov! I've previously only ever heard Sakkas in Aïs and got pretty much the same impression as you did of Melrose's part in this. What perhaps surprised me is that any sense of relief that might have been expected with the opening of the Shostakovich was in remarkably short supply; I think that he knowingly took immense risks in this work, given not only his Masters' expectations but those of his compatriots for some kind of celebratory Soviet Beethoven 9 (though quite what there was to celebrate is arguable) that would top the occasional bloated inanities of 7 and the horrors, pathos and power of 8 and which he more or less spat on in providing what effectively hovers instead between sinfonietta and divertimento where the occasional moments of tenderness often jostle with an almost Gogol-like slapstickery - hardly anyone's idea of a large-scale patriotic "victory" symphony. I am certain that these two Russian works have never previously been programmed with two works of Xenakis and it will surprise me little if they are not done again, but what appeared on the surface to be one of the most bizarre pieces of programme planning ever to grace the Proms actually worked surprisingly well. Fine performances throughout, as far as the wretched equipment allowed me to be able to tell.

Selva Oscura

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Re: Prom 63 2009: Xenakis, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich
« Reply #8 on: September 05, 2009, 09:30:43 am »
Clearly there's more to the Shostakovich 9th than celebration, though what that more might be seems to me more than usually difficult even to speculate at. In the first movement the brass cadence which twice "triggers" the happy piccolo tune is later on repeated somewhat insistently but with so to speak no effect, which might remind of the "forced celebration" aspect of the 5th although now in even more cryptic and ambiguous guise, while what the brass octaves - bassoon solo - finale sequence might "mean" is anyone's guess.

I forgot to mention that after Inori and Gruppen last year I'm becoming quite an admirer of David Robertson. Much of the unexpected impact of the 9th for me was down to his direction, not pushing a speculative agenda onto the music but presenting both its contradictions and its structural coherence with clarity. You couldn't ask for more really. And the BBCSO woodwind soloists were all on top form.

As for Rachmaninov, I've had occasion in the last couple of years by chance to hear a symphony, a piano concerto and now a tone poem of his, and I've come to the conclusion that his orchestral writing is not really very competent, whatever other fine qualities his music might have (though these are just as opaque to me, I must say). I hope I don't happen to run into any of it again.
« Last Edit: September 05, 2009, 09:36:38 am by Selva Oscura »

Offline Wasistlos

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Re: Prom 63 2009: Xenakis, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich
« Reply #9 on: September 05, 2009, 01:11:59 pm »
As for Rachmaninov, I've had occasion in the last couple of years by chance to hear a symphony, a piano concerto and now a tone poem of his, and I've come to the conclusion that his orchestral writing is not really very competent, whatever other fine qualities his music might have (though these are just as opaque to me, I must say). I hope I don't happen to run into any of it again.

His use of the orchestra seems to have undergone a bit of a transformation between his Russian years and his exile in America. The use of the orchestra in the 3rd Symphony or The Bells (and also the Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini and Symphonic Dances, though I haven't looked at the scores of these) I find extremely subtle, finely-wrought and affecting, and by comparison the earlier works do suffer somewhat (though the blending of piano and orchestral textures in the 3rd Piano Concerto, when played properly - ie not too slowly and without an egotistical spotlight on the soloist - has rarely been matched in the piano concerto repertoire IMO).

I used to be very excited by Shostakovich as a teenager, but that phase didn't last whereas the Rachmaninoff one did (and I never liked the 9th Symphony). I find him a lot more subtle and imaginative, and would take him over the currently-fashionable Dmitri any day - though neither is quite in the same league as Xenakis. I wish I'd been able to hear Nomos Gamma live, I'm sure it's not the same on the broadcast!

Offline ahinton

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Re: Prom 63 2009: Xenakis, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich
« Reply #10 on: September 05, 2009, 05:03:57 pm »
Clearly there's more to the Shostakovich 9th than celebration, though what that more might be seems to me more than usually difficult even to speculate at. In the first movement the brass cadence which twice "triggers" the happy piccolo tune is later on repeated somewhat insistently but with so to speak no effect, which might remind of the "forced celebration" aspect of the 5th although now in even more cryptic and ambiguous guise, while what the brass octaves - bassoon solo - finale sequence might "mean" is anyone's guess.

I forgot to mention that after Inori and Gruppen last year I'm becoming quite an admirer of David Robertson. Much of the unexpected impact of the 9th for me was down to his direction, not pushing a speculative agenda onto the music but presenting both its contradictions and its structural coherence with clarity. You couldn't ask for more really. And the BBCSO woodwind soloists were all on top form.
Robertson's been coming in for some critical fire in Tanglewood recently but I have to say that I had no problem with his work in Prom 63. Plugging any kind of "agenda" in a Shostakovich symphony is best avoided like the plague, especially since it is virtually impossible to gauge exactly what the composer's own may have been (and in the case of several works including the 9th symphony there are probablhy several working at once in any case). I certainly responded to Robertson's account of it pretty much as you have done.

As for Rachmaninov, I've had occasion in the last couple of years by chance to hear a symphony, a piano concerto and now a tone poem of his, and I've come to the conclusion that his orchestral writing is not really very competent, whatever other fine qualities his music might have (though these are just as opaque to me, I must say). I hope I don't happen to run into any of it again.
Well, we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one, then! What might at times seem to some rather clumsily unsubtle in the first symphony strikes me as an essential part of that symphony; in the second the orchestration also comveys to me the right mind of approach for what the composer is setting out to do and that in the last works does likewise, albeit very differently, since gone are the long melodic lines and in their place is a far pithier way of saying most of what he wanted to say - in fact I've never understood those many so many critics in the latter 1920s and 30s who insisted on trying to persuade their readership that Rakhmaninov had nothing new to say but carried on saying it regardless (and, by implication, half deserved to get away with this as long as he didn't do it too often because of his well-nigh universal acceptance as one of the greatest pianists of his time).

Offline offbeat

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Re: Prom 63 2009: Xenakis, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich
« Reply #11 on: September 05, 2009, 09:38:26 pm »
Enjoyed this prom very much - the highlight for me must be Isle of the Dead - i know most of Rachmaninov is lush but this is really mood music to an extreme - i think there is a painting of a boat in the moonlight which emphasies the romantic atmosphere of this work
The Shostakovich 9th is of course on a different planet than 7 and 8 - its almost like a cynical joke at a time when the soviets wanted a victory celebration work but its great fun in parts and rather sinister in others..
Even liked some of the Xenakis although for me a first hearing and a lot to take in  :)

Offline Jim Penn

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Re: Prom 63 2009: Xenakis, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich
« Reply #12 on: September 07, 2009, 09:36:00 am »
I've said elsewhere that, in the hall, "Nomos Gamma" was really quite extraordinary, and "Ais" and the Rakhmaninov were very effective too. I was quite surprised by the Rakh, he's a composer I normally struggle with. I didn't stay for the Shostakovich, it's not exactly a favourite of mine.

But, Selva...

Quote
I forgot to mention that after Inori and Gruppen last year I'm becoming quite an admirer of David Robertson.

I couldn't agree more with this, it's something I've been thinking myself over the last few days. That "Inori" was incredible, and "Nomos Gamma" has confirmed that Robertson has really grown as a musician lately. Which is all rather odd for me to acknowledge, as a few years ago his name on a concert billing would have been sufficient to put me off even thinking about going. I'd previously heard him conduct the WNO revival of "Pelleas & Melisande" a year after hearing Boulez conducting the same production (c.1992, 1993, something like that), and it was about asflat as a pancake. Then a couple of years later, I heard him conduct an unfeasibly lifeless Turangalila with the CBSO. But he's well and truly erased my doubts about him with the Stockhausen and Xenakis performances.

Offline RobertD

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Re: Prom 63 2009: Xenakis, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich
« Reply #13 on: September 07, 2009, 05:34:01 pm »
I used to be very excited by Shostakovich as a teenager, but that phase didn't last whereas the Rachmaninoff one did (and I never liked the 9th Symphony). I find him a lot more subtle and imaginative, and would take him over the currently-fashionable Dmitri any day.

Terribly sorry, but you're totally wrong about this. Like, totally. And, while I'm not saying that Rakh is all-bad, I just don't even know where to start with a comparison of Rakhmaninov with a, y'know, good composer...

But I agree that neither of them is a Xenakis. Nobody is a Xenakis.

Offline Wasistlos

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Re: Prom 63 2009: Xenakis, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich
« Reply #14 on: September 07, 2009, 06:27:16 pm »
totally wrong about this

Now look here young man, I'm not really making great claims for Rachmaninoff except to say I don't think he's in any way the mediocrity some people take him for. Shostakovich, on the other hand, can be thrilling and moving, especially live, but I most often find him rather facile and, as I say, lacking in subtlety. (As I say, I find it that way, not it is so.) Neither is in the premier league though (and I'm frankly astonished that so many people think Shostakovich is).

Anyway, I've thought long and hard about it for 20 years, and I've decided that I like Rach better than Shosta, and there's not much I can do about it  :) There's certainly room for both of them in the concert halls.