12.8.11

prom 37: brahms violin concerto a la 'chopsticks'

... so came the last night at the proms and now minnow is ready to enjoy his summer holiday. ive been lucky to head down south to london to see the bbc phil strut their stuff in the royal albert hall.  now i am quite well educated about the good pubs around south kensington (though one needs to forgive the fact that rich people generally dont want any beer consumption past midnight, hence calling for last call at 2315 or something ridiculous like that-) and the train-tube transfer from st. pancras to gloucester road (which never makes any sense when one is trying to pronounce it the way brits do).  yesterday even included a thrill ride on the cab, direct from train to rbh, as we booked wrong train ticket hence was running the risk of being late for the concert (gasp)!  though, i am happy to inform that rather than paying over 100 quids for new sets of tickets, we were able to get away with the murder by tipping the cabbie generously at max 15. score!

it's been an interesting experience.  for a (former pop) festival that is over hundred years old, it's got much blood and interests that runs through the capillaries.  for instance, on the first day, i was told with great authority that mere mortals with day ticket hopes to the arena (the floor where everyone stands up) must stand on the west side of the staircases, not the right- as the east side of it is reserved for the season tix holders.  as i tuck in my tail to go stand on the 'correct' line, i was taught in a tensile manner about 'doing it standing up.' it includes the details such as getting the raffle numbers and not leaving one's spot for longer than twenty minutes.  ooh and also some serious musicology lectures, and about how i should take music more seriously. these people DO take promming seriously (though some of their musical preferences can be quite amusing)

example: one of the proms opened with beethoven symphony no. 4. i was desperately trying to remember anything useful (as i have played the beethoven symphony cycle couple times for conducting classes/etc) when the fellow 'promers' have bombarded me with question: what do i (possibly) know about beethoven 4?

i could think only two things:
no. 3 is eroica and it rocks,
no. 5 is fate and it rocks.

how am i supposed to remember beethoven 4 when it has NO TUNES at all? (it's all elaboration on chords and progressions; second mvt sounds like schubert and fourth sounds like stodge mozart) (it is rather that poor twin who totally got slammed by the other twin in the womb, as 4 and 5 were written simultaneously) well, (obviously) if i were to taken music seriously, i would know it.  haha! some of them were impressive in their collective knowledge- with referential recordings, conductors, orchestras, even track length!

it included things like similar lecture about ravel's alborada del gracioso (i was almost hooked on the chin by saying that it was written for the piano- hehe; the piano version was completed in 1905, then parts of the suite, mirors, were orchestrated not only by ravel, but also by others, including the aussie mofo percy grainger.  i thought since they are likely check their facts 'later' when they get home, i should lay low), or how rachmaninoff's best music is for the choir (i was ashamed that i didnt know much about his symphonic choral music, but i think his piano-related things are darn impressive, usually...). the list goes on and on.

i suppose if i were to tell them i am a professional musician, i may have been treated a bit differently (as they were certainly more congenial when they realized that im with an orchestra member), but what would be the point? i was excited to stand the entire concerts (with ice cream breaks during intermission, which i have not seen in canada! or states!) with the crazy enthusiasts- as it meant that what we do as musicians do matter, and that with such close-to-blind-dedication, the state of arts in general society isnt as bleak as we (the classical musicians, who now have to share our pot with other musicians- jazz, rock, hiphop, trance, you name it) often like to cry about.

yes, the bread is now spread along larger group of people with so much more diverse interests.  the great days of patronage and cushy unionized ensemble gigs may be far gone but things do change- (millions who occupy now empty historical textile or mining towns of any G20 countries, or even recently, the auto factory workers of north america, would agree, surely) and unlike bolts of cotton textiles, culture, though it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly, does matter. yaaay.

though with such enthusiasm, there can be a disaster or two.  or even gross misrepresentations. bad presentations-yes (the rachmaninoff prom featured a particular russian soprano who was compared to a vibraslap, thanks to her comical phrasing and vibratos wide enough to drive a train through. though you had to see her side-cutout-diamante-jeweled-breasted dress, complete with waving gesture for the public which could make the queen blush) (none of us could figure out how she got there.  the guardian described her as 'astonishing' and i dully agree... perhaps she had a rough night?).

the hot potato in my mind after last night's prom is even more amusing, as one of my favorite violin concertos, brahms, took the centre stage, but with... a pianist.  yep.

when i first saw the program, i wondered why my education have neglected to inform me about brahms third piano concerto.  i felt zipped. cheated. fooled.  i only have a phd in the damned solo piano.

well, mr lazic, the pianist, apparently couldnt help it but to arrange the concerto for piano and orchestra.  so there it was. his reasoning was that since brahms composed from piano and the parts were then consulted by his dear mate joachim, the composition essentially can be reverted back to piano music, with enough merit to be taken seriously.  okay mate. i can see your point.  as he points out, few great works, such as numerous bach and vivaldi string/wind concerti exists also for another instrument, notably, for the keyboard.

i really tried to not to think 'how it could be' till he started to play (after that lovely introductions from the orchestra). i thought this was hard. till. i realized.

shit. i better not fall over laughing on the floor during the concert.

now,
that's effort.

i think there's something innate about herculean struggle (well, closer to man than god i suppose) in brahms' music in general. often it's too big, too loud, too soft, too many sharps/flats, too long, too many repeats, too f*$*ing difficult- it's music that requires more than what one would give 'nicely and willingly.' all musicians that i know struggle on regular basis with brahms. difficult man. it's just like the way he treated the women he loved (clara schumann being an exception, of course)- just like a little kid, he would pick on her, be rude to her, ignore her, hoping that she would pout and pay attention to him. and why should we be expected to be treated any better, haha!

and then he (rarely) rewards the musicians with this incredible contact with humanity (now i sound really frilly and dodgy, but it's true...)  and all good things about being a simple human being- with emotions, feelings, history, state of being (though you may be close to cursing than smiling, sipping tea while playing brahms) and thoughts into the future, of course.

to believe me, you only have to check out szeryng doing the brahms concerto 1st mvt, at 8:27, he is a monster with that triple stop business. i mean... anyways, if that have tickled your interest, also feel free to check out the third mvt, which has more difficulties than juggling fire acts on unicycle, with stilts on, while saving babies from drowning.
http://youtu.be/OlIEbBcXT_U
http://youtu.be/lB0UeWKRpLg

see the problem was that by sitting on the piano instead of standing stout with violin (and keeping brhams' orchestral parts, i think this may not be based purely on artistic vision, but to make this 'thing' more accessible to conventional orchestra so he can go and get more contracts),  the initially great concerto became a grande comic caricature a la chopsticks for intermediate level pianist.

i am not into pushing difficult music as better music. for your info, i am a great fan of 'white' music of arvo part and i do enjoy simple things such as 'clapping music' of reich.  dang. i think bach inventions (of two simple melodies, one for each hands of the keyboard player), which all pianists learn as kiddies, are the one of the best things ever written in the world.

i do have a problem with taking a 'heroic' piece and watering it down to cocktail muzak.  double and triple stops on a violin is fiendishly difficult. in fact, joachim, the killer popstar of the violin of his day, writing to brahms, urging to change the solo part (due to difficulty) says one thing: this is no small fry.

playing two and three notes on a piano simultaneously isnt all that impressive- i mean, i bet everyone who's by a piano can strike out couple bars of chopsticks, one finger per hand, no problem.  so there goes the spirit of the piece.  it's like dumbing down picasso's blue period painting into a single blue colour patch from a paint shop.  surely one could do but one wouldnt expect an acknowledgement of certain nature? (most likely people would love you for your sense of humour at this point.  'johnny's very clever, haha.')

in addition to sucking the life out of the solo violin part by reducing it to a kindergarten music exercise, the 'adaptations' were very pale efforts to reflect anything brahmsian, i thought- in fact, more chopinesque than anything (and they dont share much idiomatic similarities in piano writing).  then by filling out the piano parts with filigree in conjunction to the original orchestra parts, it just sounded like a reduction- how do i know? well, that's my day job. i play one-man orchestra for instrumentalists at universities and music schools.  my job is to reduce the orchestral parts into two-hands job (with one-monkey-paycheque).  at least he couldve made the adjustment to the orchestral parts (but you see, then it makes it 'less accessible' to the conventional orchestra, which results in 'fewer' contracts, possibly.)

but i still have to support (and do) the idea of new things and innovative spirits.  in fact, it is inevitable that a good thing will always be tinkered with, as it already possesses great quality and that attracts AND inspire mere mortals, like us. and mr. lazic.  i do get to play wonderful music, some of the best stuff from the entire western civilization- i mean, who am i to play mozart? but of course, music needs to be played and listened, to be enjoyed and even little punters like i can experience great joy in it. that's what makes great things great.

*seriously, i know. i am making some horrid noise on the violin since i have received one last week.  it's a funny thing to think that the satisfaction of gaudi designing sagrada familia may be the same human emotion as me playing one round of 'little brown jug' without making my friends runaway in frenzy.

but because it is a share thing, this artistic expression, one must be responsible for it. put your name on it, especially if you are going to insist on its existence and its relevance to the world.

this work is no brahms piano concerto no. 3.  at best, it may be called 'piano adaptation by mr. lazic of brahms violin concerto, with original orchestration.'  it's very naughty thing for him to take someone else's last name.  i bet mr. lazic senior may even be a bit pissed (would he start to question mr lazic's mother and look up her diaries in effort to find a dashing man with last name brahms? well, i think it's a certain possibility... one knows one's mother for sure, but fathers- hehe.)

though i may be mistaken for mr. lazic's sincere enthusiasm, the situation makes it difficult to avoid the sense of false modesty.  after all, those fiddle/keyboard concerti of bach and vivaldi were done by bach and vivaldi, not mr. jones or... mr. lazic. so we do say '- by bach/vivaldi,' for both versions.  if it's done by a punter or an enthusiast, we do put the names of the one who is responsible.  just to clarify.  it's a similar case to mahler 10- mahler died before finishing it and so someone else 'finished' it for him. and we arent talking couple bars- we are talking majority of the work being done by someone else, and rightly so, some conductors wont touch the symphony, though they do conduct the adagio of the first mvt, which was completed by mahler.  also mozart's requiem- do look it up, mozart died and sussmayr kindly completed the work, conveniently losing the 'sketches'which he worked from. urr...

look, if one didnt know about the violin concerto and its character, i think it was 'okay' music. the arena promers clapped in enthusiasm.  who am i to say that their enjoyment is invalid because the adaption has lost the spirit of its model and that wrong last name was put on the credit?  i am not concerned about that. heck, not every work presented in proms can be great (case and point to the russian soprano), and it does not needs be.

but i do think if one is so involved and attached to one's work, they should owe up to it. including giving an appropriate title.  if you arent brahms, you shouldnt sign it brahms.  i am a bit lost to think what to think of mr. lazic's effort. but perhaps his first piano concerto in work would redeem his shortcomings- whether it be artistic one or a simple inability to connect appropriate objects and ideas, like putting square pegs in square hole. it's amazing what one may remember from the proms concerts.  feel free to leave your two cents! much love to all of us, all different yet simple human beings- curious, opinionated and alive.  long-live-humanity!

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