Sol Gabetta, Cello and the Amsterdam Sinfonietta
Liebestod" Impressions post concert and beyond
Last Saturday, 12 March 2011, I had the singular pleasure to attend a concert at the Philharmonie with a friend. We were both looking forward to the experience. A string orchestra sounding out in the ultimate surroundings: What more can one ask for?
On a quite personal level, I felt most open-minded, perhaps slightly nervous even, about the second act. Modern music? But such brand-new modern music!!? I held my breath. In retrospect, I am glad that I did not “expect” anything but a new experience. The subject being dealt with is timeless and usually a sure runner with any audience.
Love Disasters put to music and word. Such is my summation of the first part of the concert. But what lovely disasters! The mere idea of fitting Wagner, Tristan & Isolde and Alban Berg’s “Lyric Suite” so magically together convinced me and had me hooked as a concert-goer. I was elated to hear an “oldie”, “the Prelude from Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” in a recent arrangement for string orchestra. This was a first for me. I particularly enjoyed how the violins so convincingly mimic the clarinets and french horns known from the full orchestra version of the “Prelude”. Pure mood music, which effectively warmed up the audience.
Was I the only one in the audience who thought they saw a ghost, a spector, floating around to and fro at the back of the stage behind the Amsterdam Sinfonietta? There were moments when I really thought that my eyes were playing tricks upon me. But, no, it was none other than Alban Berg conjured up by the music which ultimately culminates in to “Liebestod” mirrored in the strains of “Lyric Suite”. Berg, portrayed by the Dutch actor, Jeroen Willems, slipped with a phantom-like, albeit, rather tipsy, graceful fluidity amidst the musicians, sometimes peeking at their music, or standing close-by one of the female musicians. The nuanced body language pulled me into the world of love gone wrong with the lover unable to forget nor throw off the eternal flame licking despair.
The seamless manner employed to weave the text into Berg’s “Lyric Suite” is a success.
Berg’s love letters to Hanna have been moulded into a text with devotion and respect to the theme at hand without overkill. Not one word was out of place and Jeroen Willem’s performance as and embodiment of Alban Berg proved sublime. The audience was also allowed a glimpse of his beautiful voice. A pity that he had not more to sing! Pierre Audi’s “mise en scene” I found touchingly ingenious, because it was fluid and tailor-made to the emotionally charged text and music.
Just to return to the “Lyric Suite” for a moment: the play between text and movement, and the Alban Berg explaining the hidden love-code, but above all, the powerful emotions behind “Andante amoroso”, or “ Presto delirando” (my favorite!) endowed this piece with the unforgettable qualities which single it out as a work which I would gladly experience a second time.
Now to the Second Act of this concert: I would have been just as happy to have been able to forgo this part. I had to make one of those proverbial quantum leaps to fathom the relationship between the actions of the older woman on the projection screen and Act One. I guess that one could go out on a limb an infer or imagine a connection. But I was unable to do so. The beauty of the first part overpowered the effort needed to “understand” the latter or the strength to be patience and hear it out. My seat neighbors during the concert made quite a few disparaging remarks regarding the performance of the second part and ended up walking out before the end. I can understand that too well. Brings to mind the story of how concert-goers vociferously protested the first performances of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” in 1913. The concert-going public has made progress, it seems. The whole second act put me on edge. Perhaps this was intended by Mr Van Aa? That the cellist, Sol Gabetta, was the screen-woman’s alter-ego? I am not so sure.
Maybe as far as the attempt at physical similarities are concerned. I was worried that by springing out of her chair and moving furniture across the stage, plugging in the lamp, etc and then hurrying back to her seat that Ms Gabetta would trip and fall onto her priceless instrument. I would have preferred hearing her perform Stravinsky or Elgar than to look upon her imitating the pratfalls of a “performance artist” . I was relieved that she did not follow suit and hug the floor lamp. I do not remember much of the cello solo because of the visual distractions. a disappointment as she was the intended box-office feature.
In conclusion, this concert, “Liebestod” provided me with an unforgettable evening at the Philharmonie. I would not have missed it. And to be quite honest, I imagine that I will keep my questions about the woman on the screen for quite some time. And as for Alban Berg, I purchased a copy of his “Lyric Suite” the day after the concert. My musical curiosity has been stirred. For this, I am thankful. I beg the reader to overlook any unnoticed paradox or incoherence on my part. Love and music tend to have a such effect upon me when attempting to conjure the emotions they evoke into intelligible sentences.
Impressions written by Yvonne Koechig
Luxembourg, March 17, 2011
(tag: Sol Gabetta, Jeroen Willems, Michael van der Aa, Amsterdam Sinfonietta, Alban Berg, Liebestod))