Thursday, November 10,2011:Tubular Fireworks

You didn't believe the Opus Osm article Oct 31 announcing a Berg Orchestra concert with plastic tubes? Here's proof ...

Tubular Fireworks!

Every culture finds a reason for fireworks. Brits use them to celebrate “Guy Fawkes Night,” Nov 5, commemorating the assassination attempt on King James I in 1605. Americans set off fireworks to celebrate their independence from the aforementioned Brits, on July 4; and the Czechs wait for the cold weather to warm up the sky with fire at New Year’s.

But on Nov 2 The Berg Orchestra concert was a fair contender for its own display of musical pyrotechnics, an evening that included musical plastic tubes and other instruments that captivated the audience of the newly built Prague Conservatory concert hall.

The first half of the concert was devoted to two young Czech composers, each with their own premiere. First was Jiří Kabát’s Concerto for Harpsichord and String Orchestra, the solo part played by Edita Keglerová. As Mr Kabát had previously admitted to Opus Osm, try as he might, he could not shy away from the Baroque influence of the harpsichord; but in the evening entitled “Foreigners from the East” the notion of a pervasive influence in the music was the whole idea.

A Baroque instrument, the harpsichord, was brought into the 21st century in the concert's new composition.

And how well the Baroque influence sounded! The various ensembles within the orchestra played off the soloist with harmonious counterpoint, a gift to music from the Baroque era. Mixed with Mr Kabát’s modern harmonic palette, the resulting piece brought the harpsichord into the 21st century.

The harpsichord looks like a kind of piano, but is known for the plucking, rather than striking, of its strings. That’s just the opposite of the cimbalom, which also looks like a piano. It was the second solo instrument of the concert’s first half.

The cimbalom was central to Jana Vöröšová’s 4 Haiku for Orchestra, and it was given a wonderful performance by Nikol Kuchyňková. In the concert programme, Mrs Vöröšová wrote, “I tried to capture the elusive emotions that the shortness of a Haiku evoke.” The four Haiku that she chose are dark in character; for instance, the third describes a butterfly dancing on the end of an arrow that has just killed a deer. The composer wonderfully evokes the dancing butterfly by using a muted piccolo trumpet that flies around the tonal extremes of the instrument; the soaring height of the tones arouses the pain of the deer in the listener’s ear.

Nikol Kuchyňková's action is fast and furious on the cimbalom.

The following tubular bells that resound in the final movement are a culmination of the pervading notion of death throughout the four Haiku. However, the mood in this movement was lightened by the sharing of the part of the triangle player with the leader of the second violins, the oboe, and the bassoon. And of course, there were the plastic tubes.

Isang Yun’s Double Concerto for Oboe, Harp and Orchestra was the last piece in the programme. This is where the fieriest pyrotechnics took place. Kateřina Englichová entranced the audience on the harp whilst Vilém Veverka displayed an incredible stamina and technique on the oboe.

The piece is an immense challenge for the musicians who take it on, with Yun calling for techniques such as multiphonics, playing two notes at once on an instrument designed to play just one note at a time; and pitch-bending, sliding or slurring from one note to another.

Englichová used a screwdriver, a home-made hammer, and a plectrum (guitar pick) on her harp. Were it not for Veverka’s ability to circular-breathe, breathe in and out at the same time, his performance would not have displayed the true mastery that he has over his instrument.

The communication between the two soloists and their ability to transmit the music to the audience showed they had definitely played together before, and will no doubt play again together in the near future.

Along with the great performances of Wednesday’s soloists, The Berg Orchestra must be commended for their pledge to perform the music of today, and to show their own unique talent for delivering musical fireworks. – oo

– Samuel Goldscheider

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