There’s an interesting syndrome going around right now: it seems to be a circulatory problem as it results in cold feet, which in turn leads to the late changing of concert promotional titles. So tonight I heard “The Girl with the Golden Flute”, according to the subs brochure and the program book, or “Tchaikovsky Serenade”, going by the posters and recent advertising (not to mention the tumultuous applause this work received).
Alternatively, it could have been called The Girl with the Purple Frock, the said frock being a simple but elegantly shaped number in a lovely shade of royal purple. More’s the pity then that its wearer felt the need to keep tugging at the top of the bodice as if she feared it would fall down. I’m sure Chanel said something about how you should be able to put on your clothes, look in the mirror and then forget all about them. Goes double for stage wear.
While I’m on a clothing theme, the orchestra was decked out in new outfits which threaten to be selectively rather than universally flattering. I’m unconvinced about the capri pants for the women (exposed ankles work only on long and slender limbs), and there’s no agreement on exactly where on the leg the hem of the overdress should hit: it seems a bit too short on the taller women, oddly long on the shorter women. The men’s overshirts haven’t changed much that I could see, but are possibly more tailored – a good thing.
This program had always included an element of uncertainty: the idea was that in each concert you’d hear either the Vine flute concerto or one by Serebrier, together with another concerto by Izarra. Somewhere along the way Izarra was dropped from the concerts altogether and so we got both Vine and Serebrier. Or so it seemed.
A flute-playing friend who knows the Vine told me at interval that we hadn’t heard the whole piece, only (I think this was it) the third movement preceded by a portion of the second. The reference to structure in the SMH review suggested that the whole concerto had been performed on the Saturday at least. So maybe there was growing concern about the program being too long because, as so often happens with commissions, the new work by Peteris Vasks had turned out to be 25 minutes instead of the expected 10. Not that I was complaining on that point, Vasks being a favourite of mine and the music being really effective. (Now his is a flute concerto I’d like to play.)
When, after interval, the soloist came on with just her golden flute in hand, I began to have doubts about the Serebrier, which apparently features the alto flute in its fourth movement tango. It’s even called “Flute Concerto with Tango”; I’m guessing what we heard was just the Flute Concerto. And as the program annotator pointed out to me later, this made a nonsense of at least some of what had been published about the piece.
Left unexplained, discrepancies between program book and performance always bother me. And that’s not just a personal aversion to “mistakes”. If someone is genuinely trying to use the program as a navigational guide then they are either going to be misled or left confused if what they read doesn’t match what they’re hearing. I don’t think it’s too much for performers to announce from the stage (especially when they’re good at it) where changes have been made, perhaps even why, but at least what.
There was a little encore for solo flute. Apparently it was from Sweden. The composer’s name (spoken over laughter) sounded a little like Alfvén, the music not so much. In its modal qualities it reminded me more of those recorder variations that Jakob van Eyck wrote to entertain people strolling in the Utrecht cemetery (a popular pastime in the 16th century), only a whole lot more showy. The applause only confirmed that we’ve lost none of the pleasure we instinctively feel in admiring a virtuoso performance. Faster, Higher, Louder – it works for music too.
But no surprises for guessing that everyone was going to love the Tchaikovsky Serenade for strings best of all. It’s gorgeous, adorable music – made to be loved. The performance itself had an uncommon vigour that was instantly appealing. You could see (literally) some of the things that make a standing chamber orchestra so very attractive to an audience: that moment in the Elegie when four first violins angled their bodies in towards each other for a perfect, muted unison giving a visual complement to the aural effect; or when individual musicians leant across the ensemble, sharing melodies with counterparts in other sections. This stuff isn’t just for show, but it’s part of what makes a performance one. And when that happens you don’t really mind what name they give it.