FOM Gala Concert 2016 Howard Shelley CTPO #ConcertReview

FOM Gala Concert 2016 Howard Shelley CTPO #ConcertReview

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Conductor / Soloist: Howard Shelley
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall Thursday 3 November 2016

Symphony no.35 in D “Haffner”
Piano Concerto no. 18 in B-flat
Piano Concerto no. 20 in D minor

The Friends of Orchestral Music is a registered non-profit organisation that is dedicated to supporting classical orchestral music in Cape Town. The lion’s share of the funds raised are presented to the orchestra, but FOM also enables a variety of up-and-coming instrumentalists, assisting with bursaries and outreach programs.

FOM, Friends of Orchestral Music, CTPO, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Cheque please! FOM Chairman Derek Auret presented R300,000 to CTPO Chief Executive Louis Heyneman on 24 Nov 2016

FOM fund raising events are planned throughout the year, most notably the enchanting soirées featuring local and international soloists and chamber ensembles. FOM also collects a R50 donation per person at the CTPO open dress rehearsals, usually held at the City Hall on the morning of the performance. By far the most glamorous event in the FOM calendar is the annual Gala Concert, an exciting opportunity to showcase the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra in the light of an international star, and 2016 was no exception. The CTPO gave a shining performance conducted from the piano by natural born entertainer Howard Shelley. The evening was a critically acclaimed success, graciously sponsored by Nussbaumstigting, and Naspers (who sponsored the Joshua Bell concert last year.)

Ruth Allen, Bernhard Gueller, Howard Shelley, Shirley de Kock Gueller

Ruth Allen with maestros Bernhard Gueller and Howard Shelley, and CTPO marketing executive Shirley de Kock Gueller

The 2016 Gala Concert will also be remembered as Ruth Allen’s 90th birthday present! The concert was dedicated to this rare jewel of the classical art and music community – an industry mainstay; an indomitable supporter of classical music through feast and famine. What a birthday present this must have been, to see the orchestra that she had helped return from the Isle of the Dead, thriving, fierce, and full of life.

A program that features works from one composer feels quite focussed and calming, like arriving at a holiday destination with no further plans to travel, because you are exactly where you want to be. With Shelley’s Mozart program, we were comfortably transported into the Vienna of the 1780s and allowed to wonder around, explore the society, experience the culture. The symphony was elegantly phrased and impressively accurate. The Andante, around 72 bpm, was a leisurely stroll distinct in it’s complete absence of urgency, providing plenty of space to hang ones thoughts.

Howard Shelley, CTPO, Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, #CapeTownPhilharmonicOrchestra, #CTPO, #ConcertReview, #ClassicalConcertReview, Andy Wilding

Maestro Howard Shelley’s charming, entertaining, and interesting introduction to the piano concerto nr. 18 in B-flat

Maestro Shelley earned his supper a few times over, giving his audience a delightfully entertaining master class before the B-flat piano concerto. He told us to listen out for the winds, who would be playing a greater part than in any concerto before, and also rattled off an astounding array of examples on the keyboard where Mozart had used variations or derivations of the opening phrase of the 18th in other piano concerti. Thus, with his audience eating out of his hand, he rang the bonus bell: charm. It requires a skill that precious few performers have or take the time to develop: the skill of talking to the audience. There is an immediate intimacy even in a concert hall, with a performer who speaks, a kind of subconscious capcha test – Are you a robot? Seeing the humanity in the way an instrumentalist speaks is (almost always) endearing.

Lid off, Shelley got down to business, delivering amazing balance and sensitivity with the orchestra, and a cadenza of astonishing accuracy. Wondering far from the tour bus, I came to the conclusion that Mozart would be enjoying Shelley’s demonstration of the piano forte immensely, and probably envying it over his baroquey harpsichord at home. Shelley’s Andante was as dramatic as he promised it would be, having explained in his short introduction that Mozart was fond of infusing his second movements with operatic lyricism.

Howard Shelley, CTPO, Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, #CapeTownPhilharmonicOrchestra, #CTPO, #ConcertReview, #ClassicalConcertReview, Andy Wilding

Another of maestro Howard Shelley’s charming, entertaining, and interesting introductions for piano concerto nr. 21 in D minor

After interval we were rewarded with another of Shelley’s wonderful introductions, which served not only to remind us to look out for Beethoven’s cadenza in the first movement and Hummel’s in the third, but also that FOM Gala Concerts offer something special to the music lover. There is a sense of witnessing history in the making, to be in the audience of an icon performing on the City Hall stage. And what a pleasure to host a star so comfortable in his world that he speaks piano as his home language, whether illustrating a quick example or playing entire works from his iPad.

His D minor was sublime in its clarity, precision, and serenity. Not uncommonly a fan of exciting tempi, I enjoyed the Romanza’s languid first subject, a shade lazier than the Haffner Andante, and the dreaminess contrasted well with the fiery passion of the second subject. Beautiful ensemble playing from the winds.

Howard Shelley, CTPO, Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, #CapeTownPhilharmonicOrchestra, #CTPO, #ConcertReview, #ClassicalConcertReview, Andy Wilding

Howard Shelley’s concert will have very special place in the CTPO hall of fame.

 

Bernhard Gueller, Howard Shelley

Maestros Bernhard Gueller and Howard Shelley having a word after the concert, dedicated to Ruth Allen (in pink)

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Rachel Lee Priday, CTPO & Daniel Boico – Ravel Prokofiev Rachmaninov #ConcertReview

Rachel Lee Priday, CTPO & Daniel Boico – Ravel Prokofiev Rachmaninov #ConcertReview

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Conductor: Daniel Boico
Soloist: Rachel Lee Priday
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall Thursday 30 June 2016

Thousands of years from now, archaeologists will say that the internet is one of the most important and transformative tools in the history of human development. Cape Town is a small city, but it is still relatively easy to be disconnected and believe that there is no money here, and that all the great events in classical music happen overseas. Just the other day I sat next to someone at a concert who had not heard of Fine Music Radio! But that is all changing at fibre-optic speed. Frequent events like the 35th Belvedere Singing Competition are constant reminders to Capetonians that our orchestra and facilities are a beacon on the map of Africa, a stunning destination for classical musicians and competitions. The internet is our ticket to being included in the rich explosion of classical events that seems to be growing in our Mother City. And what would happen if our City Hall and Baxter concerts were video broadcast onto a website for all the world to see, like the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall?

Are we ready to go global?

Ravel – Alborada del Gracioso
We have a world-class orchestra, I hear it all the time from people who travel. Last Thursday the CTPO was on top form and impeccably synchronised with their percussion section. We have world-class conductors, Daniel Boico has worked closely with Barenboim, Boulez, and Mehta. His Ravel was scintillating, conveying the timeless allure of a Mediterranean village. Approximately translating as “Morning song of the Jester”, it is an orchestral show-piece with plenty of mystery and passion befitting the genre. The bassoon of Simon Ball serenaded over the atmospheric pianissimo orchestra that occasionally exploded in surprising and spectacular colour.

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Rachel Lee Priday, Daniel Boico, Simon Ball, Sergie Burdukov, Gabriele von Dürckheim, Daniel Prozesky, Brandon Phillips, Hamman Schoonwinkel, Patrick Goodwin, Olga Burdukova, Andy Wilding, Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, #CapeTownPhilharmonicOrchestra, #CTPO, #ConcertReview, #ClassicalConcertReview

Rachel Lee Priday with the CTPO for Prokofiev Violin Concerto No.1 conducted by Daniel Boico

Prokofiev – Violin Concerto No.1
Priday is an alluring, enigmatic performer, delighting in the contrasts of ethereal serenity and electrifying volcanism. Her interpretation of the concerto was an exploration of these ideas, opening on a single glistening gossamer thread that became darker, thicker, and more menacing. Accentuating the harmonic angst of the second subject and its edgy awkwardness, she revealed the volcano – a lava-flow of shredding scales and explosive pizzicato. She’s a live wire! … And only too easily, it’s all dreamy back-lit misty dew drops again. There’s a kind of amnesia following the storm, an almost post-apocalyptic surrealism that quite aptly describes human nature. We want to forget – we want to go back to the blissful dream again.

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Daniel Boico, Simon Ball, Sergie Burdukov, Gabriele von Dürckheim, Daniel Prozesky, Brandon Phillips, Hamman Schoonwinkel, Patrick Goodwin, Olga Burdukova, Andy Wilding, Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, #CapeTownPhilharmonicOrchestra, #CTPO, #ConcertReview, #ClassicalConcertReview

The CTPO with Daniel Boico after Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances

Rachmaninov – Symphonic Dances
We really do have a phenomenal orchestra. I know they’re just doing their jobs, but performing as a job means doing the job perfectly. Double-basses took their tricky fast wide reaches in their stride, the wind solos were breathtaking by Sergie Burdukov, Gabriele von Dürckheim, Daniel Prozesky and Brandon Phillips. And the award for #ShowStealer goes to: Hamman Schoonwinkel for his melancholy, lyrical, totally Rachmaninovian saxophone solo!

The Scherzo was bliss and rapture. This macabre, deeply beautiful waltz has three of my favourite things: 1) Ominously muted brass; 2) a concertmaster solo; (sublime, Patrick Goodwin) and 3) Olga Burdukova’s cor anglais.

Boico’s conducting is bold and sumptuously romantic. Never afraid to pause slightly or take his time describing a particularly beautiful phrase, his tempi are organic and expressive. His communication with the CTPO is excellent: they understand each other well. This could only be true because in many parts of the symphonic work, the timing is off beat and complex, and last Thursday the CTPO handled the corners like a Ferrari – mastering a finicky timing chicane into the final accelerando and coda – what an amazing ride!

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Louis Heyneman, Rachel Lee Priday, Daniel Boico

Louis Heyneman, Rachel Lee Priday, Daniel Boico

 

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35th International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition FINALS

STREAMING LIVE ON THE INTERNET
SATURDAY 2 JULY AT 6:00pm (GMT+2)

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François du Toit, Daniel Boico – Jankowitz, Schumann, Saint-Saëns #ConcertReview

François du Toit, Daniel Boico – Jankowitz, Schumann, Saint-Saëns #ConcertReview

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Conductor: Daniel Boico
Soloist: François du Toit
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall Thursday 23 June 2016

Jankowitz – Revelation
From the misty Mahleresque cor anglais opening and throughout the work, it was clear that Christo Jankowitz has the stuff of a serious symphonic composer. “Revelation” reveals a talent for communicating sophisticated musical ideas that develop along a sensible line of progression. Certainly a composer requires an ability for melody-writing, but the skill of developing musical material is a step closer to genius. Many of the greatest musical works are based on a simple melodic idea, but achieve their greatness in how those ideas are ramified and explored. After hearing this work for the first time I was tantalised – I would like to hear a whole symphony by this composer. I enjoyed the orchestration, particularly the use of piano to compliment percussion. “Revelation” moves through extremely dramatic chaos to find peace, the basis of a true existentially questioning Romantic.

Christo Jankowitz has a SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/christo-jankowitz

After writing these notes I was pleased to see that Maestro Peter Klatzow had a similar ear for the work: “Hints of Mahler – nothing wrong with that!”

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Christo Jankowitz Revelation, Daniel Boico, CTPO, #ConcertReview

Christo Jankowitz after the performance of “Revelation” by Daniel Boico and the CTPO

Schumann – Piano Concerto
I suppose one of the perks of being a world-class pianist must be the ability to reach inside the pocket of ones jacket and pull out the Schumann concerto! Maestro du Toit stepped up at short notice and gave one of the most profound performances I have ever heard or played on FMR. There is a perfectly good reason why he is everyone’s favourite: he plays beautifully. Taking his time, and with humility, he shows us the lyrical narrative of every line. He recreates the excitement and drama of the concerto with dynamic contrasts in his phrases, and avoids the ego trap of blinding speed and technical display.

To use baroque terminology, du Toit’s lyrical style is French, where he conveys compassion and empathy with the tasteful application of uneven, or inégalité phrasing. Equally comfortable conveying the dogma or forcefulness of fate, he turns to the German style of strict unyielding timing. And there is no load shedding when he needs power! His cadenza picked up an electrifying pace, flying clearly above the full orchestra. I did not need air or food during this cadenza. I needed nothing more than the continuation of the story.

Being a world-class conductor must be similar to being a world-class pianist – Maestro Boico pulled an equally polished performance from his pocket, giving the impression of weeks of rehearsals with the CTPO (a world-class orchestra). He followed du Toit’s tempo and nuance in the piano sections, accelerating slightly for the orchestra’s responses. This gave the concerto an enthusiasm and movement to the orchestra that offset the philosophical piano. The balance and accuracy were exquisite – in the exposition the double basses and du Toit’s left hand were one instrument. The timing in the third movement is extremely advanced. There are passages where “1” seems to disappear and appear again randomly for a few pages: the CTPO maintained astonishing balance and landed perfectly every time. Exemplary solos by Daniel Prozesky clarinet and Sergei Burdukov oboe.

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François du Toit, Daniel Boico, CTPO #ConcertReview

François du Toit after the Schumann piano concerto with Daniel Boico and the CTPO

Saint-Saëns – symphony no. 3 “Organ”
What an extraordinary work! Boico’s first movement bristled with restless anticipation. There is an unmistakable presence that one feels in the City Hall when the organ’s lights are on – ITS ALIVE! Continuing the profundity of the Schumann concerto, it was as if we waited for an inevitable Close Encounter of the Third Kind. Eventually and benignly, the organ spoke its message to us in gorgeous bassey rumbles that no doubt surprised one or two passing whales in Table Bay. Although rather desperately in need of servicing and tuning, it is never the less the most spectacular instrument that many of us have ever seen or heard. The sound, physical vibration, and transcendental genius of the composer, synergise and create an experience that is quite out of this world. The concert hall became a space ship exploring the outer reaches of the galaxy, with conductor Boico captaining from the bridge, and organist Erik Dippenaar piloting from the helm.

In a demonstration of organic dexterity, Dippenaar played the Bach A-major mass the previous evening, on perhaps the smallest organ in Cape Town, and this Saint-Saëns symphony the following evening, on the Leviathan. He seemed equally comfortable on either one: with clean runs and intelligent phrases. Boico’s conducting style is precise and clear, articulately communicating the levels for sections to create the balance he wants. The CTPO delivered this monumental work with its virtuosic tutti sections amazingly, mastering the often syncopated and tricky timing as well as they did in the Schumann concerto. Boico’s accelerando into the close had hearts racing, sternums vibrating, and minds boggling – This was one to remember!

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Daniel Boico, CTPO, Erik Dippenaar

Daniel Boico and the CTPO after the Saint-Saëns Symphony no.3 with Erik Dippenaar Organ

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Christo Jankowitz, Louis Heyneman, Erik Dippenaar, François du Toit, Daniel Boico

After party, from left: Christo Jankowitz, Louis Heyneman, Erik Dippenaar, François du Toit, Daniel Boico

More pictures on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/andy.wilding.92

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Next week the CTPO returns to the City Hall with Daniel Boico and SENSATIONAL soloist Rachel Lee Priday – booking now open!

Ravel – Alborade del gracioso
Prokofiev – Violin Concerto no 1
Rachmaninov – Symphonic Dances

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Peter Martens, Bernhard Gueller – Shaun Crawford Dvořák Tchaikovsky #ConcertReview

Peter Martens, Bernhard Gueller – Shaun Crawford Dvořák Tchaikovsky #ConcertReview

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Conductor: Bernhard Gueller
Soloist: Peter Martens
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall Thursday 16 June 2016

Shaun Crawford – Overture
The opening is enticing – flutes trill enchantingly over a soft bed of strings that blushes in Debussiesque tones. The pastoral air is thick with magic and the promise of exciting adventures to come. A show-piece of Crawford’s talent as a film and symphonic composer, Overture is a resolutely successful journey full of optimism and idealism. It was originally conceived to inspire young musicians, and as such it was well placed on National Youth Day. Crawford encourages international film-makers to take advantage of the Rand by completing their scores in Cape Town, with our world class musicians and production facilities. Examples of his work can be found on SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/sdalecrawford

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Peter Martens, Bernhard Gueller, Andy Wilding, Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, #CapeTownPhilharmonicOrchestra, #CTPO, #ConcertReview, #ClassicalConcertReview

Peter Martens and Bernhard Gueller after performing the Dvořák cello concerto with the CTPO

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Dvořák – Cello Concerto
Martens has an innate ability to communicate through his instrument. Far beyond technique, he plays “with the blood”. The composer’s intentions seem to make sense to him as a fluent language spoken by his cello, expressing states of being, emotions, states of mind, thoughts, and sensations. His performance was an exploration of the mind and soul of the concerto, delivered in the sheer beauty of his phrasing and clear understanding of line.

Beneath all this, Martens walks on the solid ground of polished fundamentals, which shine in astonishing octave runs, soaring projection over the orchestra at full gallop, and hummingbird trills that hover for a while and then shoot off to another chord note. His pronunciation of staccato consonants and legato vowels is effortless. Vibrato is like a column of incense smoke – beginning strait and undulating as it accelerates.

Dramatic colours emanated from Gueller’s pallet, and the CTPO responded with distinction. The full tutti entry in the adagio was sudden and frightening, immaculate, totally in unison. Alluring solos by concert master Suzanne Martens and Caroline Prozesky horn.

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Bernhard Gueller, Andy Wilding, Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, #CapeTownPhilharmonicOrchestra, #CTPO, #ConcertReview, #ClassicalConcertReview

Bernhard Gueller’s final upbeat of the Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony with the CTPO

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Tchaikovsky – Symphony no. 5
Over the last two decades of this writer’s experience, the manner of applauding at the City Hall has passed through a number of behavioural changes. In the mid 1990s it was fashionable to stamp ones feet while clapping, almost like a drum roll. The effect was rather a pleasing roar, above which could be heard applause and one or two whistles. In the last two years (the duration of this review) the City Hall audience has been reserved to clapping and occasionally standing up. That mould was gleefully smashed after the symphony last Thursday, by elated cheering and a full house standing ovation for Maestro Gueller and the CTPO.

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Bernhard Gueller, Andy Wilding, Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, #CapeTownPhilharmonicOrchestra, #CTPO, #ConcertReview, #ClassicalConcertReview

A full house standing ovation for Maestro Gueller and the CTPO after Tchaikovsky 5

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Conducting from memory, Gueller delivered an inspired, beautifully phrased performance that portrayed a sensitive and intelligent interpretation. He is a master of dynamics, seeming to nod or shake his head to indicate for a section to play piano or forte, with stunning effect. The composer’s beloved wind section featured excellent solos, and horns were exceptional in their pianissimo triplets. Exemplary ensemble playing by principles Brandon Phillips bassoon, Sergei Burdukov oboe, and Gabriele von Dürckheim flute. Mesmerising solos by Caroline Prozesky horn and Daniel Prozesky clarinet.

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Shaun Crawford, Louis Heyneman, Bernhard Gueller, Peter Martens, Andy Wilding

Shaun Crawford, Louis Heyneman, Bernhard Gueller, and Peter Martens after the concert

Next week the CTPO returns with Conductor Daniel Boico and pianist François du Toit:

 

Christo Jankowitz – Revelation

Schumann – Piano Concerto

Saint-Saëns – Symphony no.3 featuring Erik Dippenaar organ

 

BOOK NOW AT COMPUTICKET OR ARTSCAPE DIAL-A-SEAT: 021 421 7695

Bryan Wallick Arjan Tien – Britten Prokofiev Mendelssohn #CTPO #ConcertReview

Bryan Wallick Arjan Tien – Britten Prokofiev Mendelssohn #CTPO #ConcertReview

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Conductor: Arjan Tien
Soloist: Bryan Wallick
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall Thursday 19 May 2016

Britten – Passacaglia from Peter Grimes
Tien’s second performance with the CTPO this season reaffirmed his style as easy to follow with clear tempo. At times his movements are minimal, which is a great compliment to the orchestra as it implies that they listen to each other for timing. This minimalism also frees up the conductor to express the nuances and dynamics of his interpretation, to which the CTPO were highly responsive. A dark Victorian scene emerged, featuring Paula Gabriel’s sonorous melancholy viola, and haunting celeste by Joanna Majksner-Pinska, peppered with precise percussion.

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Bryan Wallick, #CTPO, Arjan Tien, Andy Wilding

Bryan Wallick with the CTPO and Arjan Tien after the Prokofiev Piano Concerto no.2

Prokofiev – Piano Concerto no.2
There is an understated kind of charm about this concerto. Beginning rather ordinarily, the work is embalmed with Prokovief’s unmistakable mystical logic. We find ourselves in the most unexpected places as if by magic, and somehow arrive back in the tonic. Wallick’s interpretation of this musical sorcery was Renoiresque – a hazy impression that on closer inspection reveals articulate precision. His playing was relaxed, contemplative, and very clean, portraying a healthy blend of confidence and intuitive accuracy. His fingers have a way of finding the right notes. As enchanting as the first movement is, the cadenza does rather stand out as the reason why any fiery pianist would perform the work. Growing in layers, the developments on the first subject become progressively intense, each new layer seeming to be the ultimate hight of extremism, only to reveal another even higher pinnacle. Time suspended as Wallick’s left hand plucked melody out from between the dangerous moving parts of his right hand arpeggios. With increasing conviction, it dawned on the audience that we were in the presence of a remarkable pianist, who plays like a Tai Chi master – organic and fluid, surging and ebbing, gathering and centering, accurate and intense.

The third movement Intermezzo was phenomenal – a magical macabre slow scary march from the CTPO, great interpretation by Maestro Tien.

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Arjan Tien, #CTPO, Andy Wilding

Arjan Tien and the CTPO after the Mendelssohn with stereo double-basses!!

Mendelssohn – Symphony no. 3 “Scottish”
In the first half, Tien positioned the orchestra in the same way as the previous week, where the cellos and second violins swapped places so that the second violins were on his right. The double basses were placed on his left, behind the first violins. This of course changes the stereo effect completely and I enjoyed this very much, since the violin parts are panned left and right. Having the double-basses on the left, moves the bass into stereo, as opposed to being panned right. After interval, however, the four double-basses were balanced two on each side, as there is no bass brass in the symphony. Talking to two of the double-bassists afterwards confirmed my suspicion, that separating the section would present a challenge for them to stay together, but their timing in the performance was unaffected. The stereo effect was glorious – surround-sound double-bass!

Some would deny much of a difference to the sound on the grounds that, in a concert hall such as this, the sound from the stage bounces off all the surfaces, and by the time it gets to our ears, it’s all mashed up. It certainly is true that sound is shaped by the room, and reaches our ears from many different directions. Was there really any difference? Was my visual perception influencing my auditory perception? From my seat in the back row of the balcony, I conducted an experimented. I closed my eyes and listened, I heard violins playing on my left, opened my eyes and saw the first violins playing, and the second violins resting. The stereo effect is amazing. In the adagio, Mendelssohn’s theme was sublimely bowed by first violins on the left, with pizzicato accompaniment by seconds on the right, like a panorama photograph. Exceptional solos by Daniel Prozesky clarinet and Simon Ball bassoon.

The CTPO returns next season – Winter is coming.

Maestros Bernhard Gueller and Peter Martens

Shaun Crawford Overture
Dvořák Cello Concerto
Tchaikovsky Symphony no. 5.

Crawford is UCT, hear some of his work here.

BOOK NOW AT COMPUTICKET OR ARTSCAPE DIAL-A-SEAT: 021 421 7695

Melvyn Tan CTPO Arjan Tien – Puccini Mendelssohn Brahms #ConcertReview

Melvyn Tan CTPO Arjan Tien – Puccini Mendelssohn Brahms #ConcertReview

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Conductor: Arjan Tien
Soloist: Melven Tan
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall Thursday 12 May 2016

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Curtain-raiser: Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Wind Ensemble, Faan Malan
Hidas – Capriccio

I am always glad to see Cape Town’s youth orchestras performing – its a reminder that hundreds of young people are practising their art and honing their skills to be able to play the kind of music that some fear is in danger of becoming extinct. Last Thursday, the CPYWE reassured us that the future of classical music is in capable hands. We were served a meticulously rehearsed and synchronous aperitif, fresh and light with twinkling percussion on xylophone and marimba. Malan captured the capricious yet well conceived nature of the work.

Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Wind Ensemble, Faan Malan, Andy Wilding

The Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Wind Ensemble with conductor Faan Malan

Puccini – Capriccio Sinfonico
This caper begins rather seriously, revealing exceptional control from horns and brass, before opening out expansively with sweeping strings and heavenly harp. I was not alone in wondering why the double-basses were positioned on the left of the stage. I tweeted “What madness is this!!” But after the concert, Maestro Arjan Tien explained the method in the madness: apparently it was Wagner’s fault.

I was surprised to learn how little regard is given to the composer’s positioning of the orchestra on the stage. Understandably, the layout needs to be flexible to accommodate the vast variety of different performing venues, but it is usually the conductor who has the final say on layout. Ever the extremist, Wagner conducted his own works with the all bass on the right of the stage, (tuba, trombones, bassoons, double basses) and all the treble on the left (violins). We usually see the CTPO lining up this way because Wagner was extremely influential to composers like Debussy and Strauss, and his conducting legacy continued through Furtwängler into the recording age. BUT up until Mahler’s time, Maestro Tien explained, it is very likely that the treble and bass were evenly balanced stereophonically across the stage, with violins in front left and right, and bass at the back, double basses left and brassy windy bass right. Having completely disorientated everyone, Tien delivered an individual, decisive interpretation, lifting interesting details out from a wide volumetric oceanic orchestra.

Melvyn Tan, CTPO, Arjan Tien, Andy Wilding

Full house standing ovation for Melvyn Tan’s Mendelssohn!

Mendelssohn – Piano Concerto No. 1
Elevated from a short orchestral crescendo, Melvyn Tan entered at precisely the orchestra’s level, like Jack Sparrow stepping onto that jetty from the mast of his sinking ship. This concerto is such a bright jewel, such a darling, every moment is precious and so swiftly changing, a pas de deux between piano and orchestra, where balance is crucial. Tan’s nonchalant control was quite breath-taking, matching the orchestra’s hight and volume with a confidence that indicated either insanity, or skill beyond imagination. His bars often stretched plastically, as if to prolong the beauty of the composer’s ideas, and yet he was always on tempo. His attention to detail was meticulous, perfectly dotted rhythms even through rapids that would frighten lesser pianists into abandoning the dots, and holding on for dear life. His intensely individual style and fantasy-free interpretation is characterised by beautiful dynamic expression, water-tight synchronism, and a sense of adventure that made his dance with the CTPO exciting and fun, like playing with an echo. The piano and orchestra parts are so close that at times they finish each other’s sandwiches. Conductor Tien’s arrangement of the stage, which he believes Mendelssohn to have used, positioned the pianist in a close chamber group with violin Farida Bacharova behind him and first cello Kristiyan Chernev to his left, and Tan made full use of this in his close connection with the orchestra principals. In the softness of the Andante, Tan continued to shine, revealing masterful dynamic variation, even during a trill. The orchestra responded warmly – there was the most wonderful moment between celli, violas, double-basses and horns. We don’t often see a full house standing ovation but Tan earned one, demonstrating perfect balance in a rare combination of dexterity, power, and playfulness.

Arjan Tien, CTPO, Andy Wilding

Conductor Arjan Tien after a riviting performance of Brahms Symphony 2 with the CTPO

Brahms – Symphony No. 2
The Allegro opened serenely and pastorally, so peaceful, just the slightest movement of Tien’s baton. The strings, although confusingly placed, sounded wonderful and warm. Before I properly understood the arrangement, I noted: “…it may even be that placing the double-basses on the left and swapping the 2nd violins and celli, adds to the roundness of the sound.” But the more I listened, the more I became aware that hearing the double-basses on the left was actually changing the whole sound – kind of reverse stereo! But I loved it for more than just the novelty because bass instruments have a totally different texture from each other, and their textures are more identifiable when panned left and right. Violins almost always play in two parts, and these two parts are more identifiable when panned left and right. The ensemble work in the third movement between Oboe Sergei Burdukov and first row celli pizzicato was sublime. There are any number of terrifying moments in the final movement, Tien and the CTPO mastered them all. He has a clear, decisive style, seemingly all-encompassing, with a great ear for detail and phrasing, the first note of runs neatly accentuated. He navigated the off-beat confluence of merging parts brilliantly, knitting them together at a most spirited allegro, so that each part landed exactly where it needed to. The symphony was Brahmsian – proud, noble, flowingly regal, and rhythmically tight through extremely challenging syncopation.

Melvyn Tan, Arjan Tien, Any Wilding

Arjan Tien congratulates Melvyn Tan on his stunning performance after the concert

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Maestro Tien returns to conduct the CTPO next Thursday:

Britten – Passacaglia from Peter Grimes
Prokofiev – Piano Concerto No 2
Mendelssohn – Symphony no. 3 “Scottish”

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Nikita Boriso-Glebsky, CTPO, Conrad van Alphen – Mozart, Vieutemps, Dvořák Concert Review

Nikita Boriso-Glebsky, CTPO, Conrad van Alphen – Mozart, Vieutemps, Dvořák Concert Review

Reviewed by Andy Wilding

Conductor: Conrad van Alphen
Soloist: Nikita Boriso-Glebsky
Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, City Hall, Thursday 5 May 2016

Mozart – Symphony no. 38 “Prague”
An evening billed as “Perfect Prague” prompted the thought that music not only transcends time, but also space. It was easy to believe that our Cape Town Concert Hall, right at the end of Africa’s cul-de-sac, was somehow in the same place as those halls in which Mozart stood. Van Alphen began with a stately, lofty adagio, to parallel the finest performances of this work, refreshing into an allegro which quickened the pulse and hit all the right spots. I was reminded how great conductors allow a skilled orchestra to play as a chamber group, and encourage them to listen to each other for timing. This must be very liberating – the conductor is then free to indicate interpretation and expression, instead of being weighed down by the mechanical task of time-keeping. I was so impressed by his minimal style that showed the CTPO as world class orchestra, that I thought the first movement deserved applause, however inappropriate.

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Nikita Boriso-Glebsky, Conrad van Alphen, CTPO

Nikita Boriso-Glebsky Vieuxtemps Violin Concerto no. 4 about to play his encore “Furies” from Ysaÿe Violin Sonata no. 2

Vieuxtemps – Violin Concerto no. 4
Seeing Nikita Boriso-Glebsky performing this work, the first thing that comes across is his amazing sensitivity – his opening note appears like a mirage from another dimension. Then follows his profound demonstration of technique that enables an articulate, emotionally intuitive interpretation. A hidden jewel in the violin repertoire, the concerto was spectacularly presented in velvety romantic serenades and sparkling precision-cut facets. With seamlessly flowing bow technique and exceptional speed, Boriso-Glebsky trails a string of the highest international awards available. However, his full-house standing ovation was earned through nothing less than a spectacular performance and fluid synergy with the CTPO under conductor van Alphen. The ensemble in the second movement with the celli was sublime, and the scherzo-trio was blistering – twice! Belgian virtuoso Vieuxtemps repeats the belief-defying first section, as if to tempt fate and prove that it wasnt fluke the first time! And proof we certainly had! It seems that the lesson in impossibility was indeed repeatable.

And it continued with an encore by Vieuxtemps’ student: Ysaÿe Violin Sonata no. 2, 4th movement – “Furies”. But fury we had not, just wide eyes, stunned clapping, and modest attempts at comprehension. This night will be remembered!

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Conrad van Alphen, Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Conrad van Alphen after the Dvořák Symphony no. 7 with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Dvořák – Symphony no. 7
Dark winds and strings opened majestically and forebodingly, in what many people told me afterwards is their favourite Dvořák symphony. Van Alphen’s alert energy and awareness was in-suppressible, achieving a masterful blend of syncopation between parts. This was notable in the ecstatic burst of the major theme at the end of the first movement – well done horns and violins! Listening to a performance like this, I could sit back and enjoy world class solos by the CTPO principles, Gabriele von Dürckheim flute, Daniel Prozersky clarinet, and Sergei Burdukov oboe. Van Alphen demonstrated the answer to a fundamental question – What really is conducting? What’s it for? Everything is written in the music, accelerandi, diminuendi, fortissimo, piano, why a conductor? With only minimal tempo indication, his movements for the most part convey his interpretation of nuance, flavour, texture, subtle changes of crispness or sweetness that could never be included in a score. Although the composer has long left this world, I found this performance fresh and original, and very much alive.

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Nikita Boriso-Glebsky, Conrad van Alphen and Louis Heyneman

Nikita Boriso-Glebsky, Conrad van Alphen and Louis Heyneman after the concert

Next week the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra returns with pianist Melvyn Tan conducted by Arjan Tien:

Puccini – Capriccio Sinfonico
Mendelssohn – Piano concerto no.1
Brahms – Symphony no.2

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