qatsi (qatsi) wrote,
qatsi
qatsi

Xena-phobia

The queue for yesterday's Prom was very short until quite late in the afternoon, partly due no doubt to the weather, but partly due to the programme. The pre-Prom talk on Iannis Xenakis was very well done and provided some interesting background material on this unfamiliar composer. Members of Xenakis' family and the talk's main guest speaker, Xenakis' biographer Nouritza Matossian, joined the Arena crowd for the start of the concert - probably for the unique vantage point it would give them in the performance, but also perhaps echoing the composer's proletarian views.

Each half of the concert opened with a work by Xenakis. For the first piece, Nomos gamma, the orchestra was seated throughout the Arena, which meant that the capacity was significantly reduced (Prommers further back in the queue were offered seats in the choir area, which hadn't been available for advance purchase). In 2005 I was at a Prom where the visiting orchestra commented "we seem to be at the same dinner table": this time it was the audience's turn to be in an equally unfamiliar situation. The work was said to evoke waterfalls or maybe fireworks; certainly it was loud (especially the percussion just behind us). Given Xenakis' history and the fact that the piece dates from 1968, I thought it was perhaps more like being in a student demo, with the orchestra fulfilling the role of the riot police. The work that opened the second half, Aïs, was musically more interesting, and both soloists, Colin Currie on percussion and baritone Leigh Melrose, did good jobs, but the vocals were a mixture of fragmented classical Greek poetry and non-verbal caterwauling. I thought of Aesop and Eeyore; kharin's thoughts were similar, as he remarked afterwards, one camel has a limp.

In between these works, we had more conventional music. In the first half, Rachmaninov's symphonic poem The Isle of the Dead, which was new to me and which I enjoyed; and in the second, Shostakovich's Symphony No. 9. Given the history of great ninth symphonies, and the fact that it dates from 1945, the Soviet authorities expected an illustrious work of victory. In fact, the piece is a short and rather light work. Its jaunty opening in particular seems to me to suggest popular celebration, so it probably wasn't easy to criticise even if it did not meet expectations; Shostakovich perhaps held back until the Tenth for a 'great' victory symphony.
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