Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Wrapped up in Bruckner

The Leipzig Gerwandhaus Orchestra led by Riccardo Chailly

A few weeks ago my uncle gave me a pair of tickets to a concert at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. It was part of the 39th Hong Kong Arts Festival, featuring the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra from Leipzig, Germany.

They were good seats too -- in the HK$880 ($112.87) range. He had won the tickets in a lucky draw said he had another engagement that day; knowing that I enjoy listening to classical music, he passed them onto me.

At first I asked an acquaintance who is a musician and composer to go with me, but she was not available. "But you should go because they're really good," she encouraged.

So I asked another friend who I hadn't seen since I came back to Hong Kong and she agreed to come to the concert last night.

When we got into the concert hall the attendants told us the concert would be 90 minutes long without a break -- we were in for a long-haul musical journey.

The Leipzig Gergandhaus Orchestra was founded in 1743 by 16 merchants who started a concert society. It was named Gerwandhaus after the house where the clothe merchants met, and finally adopted the Gerwandhaus Orchestra title in 1791.

Conductor Riccardo Chailly
The current orchestra was led by conductor Riccardo Chailly, a Milanese who has led several top orchestras, including the Berlin, Vienna and New York Philharmonics. He first conducted the Gerwandhaus Orchestra in 1986 and then took up the position of music director in 2005.

Last night they performed Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 8 in C minor, WAB108 which required not only stamina, but also skill and passion, something both parties delivered on stage.

The huge orchestra filed in, and included a large percussion section and three harps. The members were placed differently than most orchestra setups, with the violins closest to the conductor on his left and right sides, followed by the violas, cellists and bassists were on the left and behind them the tubas. The harpists were on the far right and as usual the winds as the back. As far as I could tell there was only one Asian in the orchestra, a Korean playing the violin with furrowed brows and longish hair to project his artiste look.

I don't know enough about the music to expound on it, but to say that it sounded a lot like movie music, with its dramatic crescendos building up to a climax and then subsiding, only to start again and subside like waves before the movement ended. Another observation was the excellent skill of the musicians, the violinists in particular, who at some points moved their bows back and forth on the strings so quickly and yet the softest sound emanated from them. The same goes for the percussionist playing the drums who also kept the beat at times in the background, again very quietly.

Despite the excellent performances, some members of the audience could not sit still without playing with their cell phones for an hour and a half. The woman sitting next to me kept flipping through her program very loudly and was at a loss of what to do to kill the time. How about concentrating on the music? The man in front of her had finessed the art of passing time by quietly reading through the entire program while the orchestra was playing, but when he was done he managed to sit to the end.

It's interesting how people become so attached to their gadgets -- how will the next generation fare not being able to touch their gadgets for a two-hour concert?

In the end the audience clapped loudly for the orchestra and Chailly, who lapped up the attention. He came out several times, thanking members of the orchestra and going back inside. We were expecting an encore, but it never came. "Perhaps if he did an encore it would take another hour," my friend quipped.

Symphony No. 8 in C minor, WAB108
(1890 Nowak version)
Allegro moderato
Scherzo, Allegro moderato
Adagio, Feierlich langsam; doch nicht schleppend
Finale, Feierlich, nicht schnell

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