Archive for RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra

Bruckner: Symphony No. 8

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on February 8, 2020 by telescoper

Last night I once again found myself settling into a seat at the National Concert Hall in Dublin for a performance by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, this time under the direction of Mihhail Gerts. There was only one item on the menu – the Symphony No. 8 by Anton Bruckner – but what a feast it turned out to be!

Bruckner had a habit of making multiple revisions to his scores, and the Eighth Symphony is no exception to this. There are two major versions (usually referred to as the 1887 and 1890 versions) but also numerous edited variations of these two. For the record last night we heard the edition made by Robert Haas, based mainly on the 1890 version, but replacing some pieces which had been edited out of the 1887, perhaps most notably a quiet passage in the Third (Adagio) Movement.

This is a colossal work, lasting about 90 minutes in performance and requiring a huge orchestra so the stage was very crowded when the concert got under way.

As well as larger than usual string sections, the brass section comprises no less than eight horns, three trumpets, three trombones and a tuba as well as a quartet of Wagnertuben which you don’t often see in a symphony orchestra. These instruments have a sound somewhere between that of the horns and the trombones and they add an immense solidity to the section that produces a wall of sound that has an extraordinary effect when heard live, especially during the fortissimo passages (of which there are several in this work).

Woodwinds include a bass clarinet and a contrabassoon alongside the more usual clarinets and flutes, and there are three harps and percussion. A special mention must be made of the timpanist (Grahame King) who was given a huge amount to do, and did it all exceptionally well.

The work is structured in four movements, each of which involves a shift from minor to major (the piece opens in C minor) but each covers a very varied musical landscape. The overall atmosphere of the work varies too. At times it is tranquil (or perhaps merely resigned) but it often evokes a sense of conflict and sometimes even terror. It does, however, end in a glorious crescendo that gives a sense of triumph. Along the way there is some truly memorable passages: a gorgeous dialogue between flutes and clarinets in the 2nd Movement (Scherzo) comes to mind, and the Adagio as a whole is just magnificent.

I have never heard this work performed live, and have to admit I got completely lost in the performance. Despite the length of the concert, I never looked at my watch once during the whole thing. Congratulations to Mihhail Gerts and the entire orchestra for taking us on such an epic journey. I enjoyed every second of it, and so I think did the rest of the audience, because the end was greeted with a standing ovation.

But you don’t need to rely on my opinion. You can’t beat live music, but the entire concert is here for you to enjoy as live on the Lyric FM stream. Enjoy!

Beethoven from Brexit Day

Posted in Music with tags , , on February 4, 2020 by telescoper

I may not have been able to attend the concert at the National Concert Hall in Dublin on Friday 31st January, but I did listen to it live on the Radio. Now you can experience the whole thing yourself via the Youtube recording of the live stream. The programme consisted of three pieces by Ludwig van Beethoven played by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Leonard Slatkin:

  • The Consecration of the House Overture
  • Violin Concerto (soloist Stefan Jackiw)
  • Symphony No. 7

I very much enjoyed listening to the concert, especially the up-tempo finale of the Seventh Symphony. I gather there was a problem with the live stream that meant the sound wasn’t broadcast along with the pictures, but they’ve fixed it on the recording so now you can experience both sight and sound from the NCH:

 

 

The Dvořák Requiem at the National Concert Hall in Dublin

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on January 18, 2020 by telescoper

Following my decision to see more live music in 2020, last night found me taking my seat at the National Concert Hall in Dublin for a performance of the Requiem in Bminor by Antonín Dvořák (Op. 89) featuring the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and the RTÉ Philharmonia Choir conducted by Patrik Ringborg with solo vocalists Adrienn Miksch (soprano), Patricia Bardon (alto-, Julian Hubbard (tenor) and William Thomas (bass). The members of the choir were just taking their places as I sat down (as were other members of the audience).

I hadn’t heard Dvořák’s Requiem before last night’s concert. Indeed before I saw the advert for the concert I didn’t even know it existed. It just doesn’t seem to be performed vary often. Heaven knows why, because it’s actually rather wonderful. It does involve large orchestral forces, a full choir and a concert organ, but then so do many other works that are performed very frequently in concert halls around the world.

The Dvořák Requiem consists of thirteen sections divided into two Parts (with an interval between them) and is based on settings of the traditional Latin mass for the dead. The music lasts about 95 minutes altogether. The prevailing mood for Part 1 is at times mysterious, restless, questioning and reflective while Part 2 is much more affirmative, even at times joyous, with some uplifting (and wonderfully loud) tutti passages. Although ostensibly in a minor key, there’s much more of the feeling of a major key tonality during the later stages. Overall the piece ends up seeming more of a celebration of life rather than a lament for the dead. Throughout the piece there’s interesting interplay between choir, orchestra and soloists and it’s also very tuneful, as you would probably expect from Dvořák.

After a slightly hesitant start, both choir and orchestra soon got into the swing of things and produced a superb concert that ended up drawing a standing ovation from the audience in the National Concert Hall. Last night’s concert was, I’m glad to say, sold out.

Anyway, you don’t have to take my word for it: the whole concert is on Youtube (it starts about 3 minutes in).

P.S. You will soon see that the presenter last night was not the usual Paul Herriott, but Aedín Gormley.

Culture Night (and Afternoon)

Posted in Art, Biographical, History, Maynooth, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2019 by telescoper

I thought I’d do a quick round-up of my little trip around cultural and historic Dublin yesterday after being stood down from duty at the Higher Options fair at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS). I have to say it was wonderful to see so many people out and about in the City’s beautiful parks and public spaces enjoying the September sunshine as I walked around.

The RDS is in the Ballsbridge area in of Dublin, to the East of the City. My route into town from there took me along Northumberland Road, where I took this picture outside Number 25:

A little further along I went across Mount Street Bridge, passing this memorial.

If you want to know more about the significance of these memorials to the events of the Easter Rising in 1916, see my post here.

My main intention during my afternoon off was to visit the National Gallery of Ireland which is situated on one side of Merrion Square. I have to say that this was even better than I’d expected, and I’m sure to visit again many times in the future. The ground floor is dominated by the work of Irish artists from about 1660 to 1965, together with European Art from 1835 to 1965. You will find works by Monet and Picasso in this section, which has much to savour. Among the Irish artists represented in this show is Jack B. Yeats (brother of poet W.B. Yeats), an extremely interesting artist in his own right.

The highlights for me, however, were found on the 3rd floor which displays examples of European Art from the early Renaissance (c. 1300) to the Enlightenment. One of the interesting things about this collection is that it is arranged thematically rather than by artist (or nationality thereof). There is, for example, an entire room of paintings inspired and influenced by Caravaggio, all of them with an intensely dramatic use of light and shadow. The gallery is worth it just for that room, but there are also fascinating juxtapositions of religious paintings from the renaissance with icons and altarpieces from the Byzantine and Russian orthodox traditions from the same period.

Elsewhere in the collection there are notable works by Vermeer, Rembrandt and Perugino as well as a number of British works by, for example, Gainsborough and Reynolds.

The work that really stopped me in my tracks, however, was this:

This is St Francis Receiving The Stigmata by El Greco. I knew about this painting but had no idea it was in Dublin. Seeing it close up is a revelation: the swirling brushstrokes give it an extraordinary texture that makes it hard to bring the image completely into focus. The hypnotic feel that results is a brilliant depiction of a man undergoing a kind of ecstatic vision. This work has an unbelievably powerful effect on the viewer (or at least on this one).

After a break for a sit down and a cup of coffee I visited the Natural History Museum (which is practically next door to the National Gallery). This is a surprisingly old-fashioned affair, with hundreds of stuffed animals and birds crammed into two large rooms:

It reminded me a lot of visits to the Hancock Museum in Newcastle when I was a kid. It’s interesting, but more than a little creepy and would make an excellent setting for a horror story!

After adjourning to a pub for a pint of Guinness the final stop of the day was the National Concert Hall for yesterday’s Culture Night concert. On the way there I saw a big queue of people trying to get into one of the many free events around Dublin. It turns out this Culture Night was the grand opening of the Museum of Literature Ireland, which is situated in Newman House on the South Side of St Stephen’s Green. There’s another one to put on my list of places to visit.

The Culture Night concert was by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin. The opening piece, Kinah, was a composition by the conductor himself and is a sort of memorial to his parents, both of whom were classical musicians, one a violinist and the other a cellist, and together they formed half of the famous Hollywood String Quartet. It was a new piece for me, and I found it very moving indeed. After that there was a bit of reorganization on stage to make way for the Steinway on which the brilliant Xiayin Wang played the Piano Concerto by Samuel Barber, which consists of two fast and furious movements either side of a beautifully lyrical slower movement. This must be a ferociously difficult piece to play – especially the last movement which is at a breakneck pace in 5/8 time – requiring not only dexterity but physical strength. It was a wonderful performance by Xiayin Wang, who rounded off the first half with an encore in the form of a transcription of George Gershwin’s song The Man I Love.

After the wine break interval came the main course in the form of the Symphony No. 4 in E Minor by Johannes Brahms. This is of course a much more familiar work than the previous two, but I really like concerts that mix unfamiliar material with the standard concert repertoire. It also gave me the chance to persevere with Brahms as my friends keep telling me to. It’s not that I don’t like Brahms, it’s just that I don’t find that he moves me as much as many other composers and so many people rave about him that I think I must be missing something. The 4th Symphony is a very fine work, and was performed beautifully last night under the direction of Leonard Slatkin (conducting, incidentally, without a score), but I couldn’t stop myself thinking how much like Beethoven it sounds. That’s not meant to be derogatory, by the way.

But you don’t need to take my word for it. You can listen to (and watch) the whole concert here:

Anyway, after the applause had died down I headed out towards Pearse Station for the train back to Maynooth. I was a bit tired after a very full day and wanted to get the 10.08 train so I didn’t stop to watch any of the numerous musical and artistic events I passed on the way, including an intriguing installation involving images projected onto one of the buildings to the side of St Stephen’s Green. I made it to the station with 5 minutes to spare and discovered that, because it was Culture Night, the train home was free!

Britten: War Requiem

Posted in Music, Poetry with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 10, 2018 by telescoper

Last night I was back at the National Concert Hall in Dublin for an immensely powerful and moving performance of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. This vast work is composed for two orchestras (a standard symphony orchestra and a smaller chamber orchestra), two choirs (a chorus of adult voices and a boy’s choir) and three solo vocalists. Last night the soloists were Ailish Tynan (soprano), Gavan Ring (baritone) and Robin Tritschler (tenor), who performed with the combined forces of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, the RTÉ National Concert Orchestra, the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir and the boy Choristers of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, all conducted by David Brophy.

You can see the members of the Philharmonia Choir in position in the above photograph, which I took about ten minutes before the performance began; the choristers were out of sight in the gallery above and behind me, near where the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, was sitting.

The War Requiem was commissioned for the consecration in 1962 of the new Coventry Cathedral built to replace the 14th century cathedral that was destroyed along with most of the city in a devastating air raid ion 1940. It’s a remarkable work that juxtaposes settings of traditional liturgical Latin texts against poems by Wilfred Owen. The idea of doing this may have originated with the first poem Britten uses, Anthem for Doomed Youth, which itself deploys words associated with religious services to emphasize the soulless brutality of warfare:

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
-Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,-
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

These settings are sung by soloists accompanied by the smaller chamber orchestra (positioned at the front of the stage) while the more traditional liturgical elements involve the larger forces arrayed behind.

I’ve known this work for many years largely through the classic 1963 recording conducted by Britten himself, with Galina Vishnevskaya, Peter Pears and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as soprano, tenor and baritone soloists respectively. I’m so familiar with that version that it was at first a little disconcerting to hear very different voices, but that very soon gave way into an appreciation of three very fine artists in their own right. All three were excellent last night, but I have to give extra special plaudits to Ailish Tynan, who sang with extraordinary passion in the Sanctus and Libera Me. The Latin text of the latter section includes:

Tremens factus sum ego, et timeo
dum discussio venerit, atque ventura ira.
Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna.
Quando coeli movendi sunt i terra.
Dies illa, dies irae, calamitatis
et miseriae, dies magna et amara valde.
Libera me, Domine.

Ailish Tynan performed this not just as an evocation of the horrors of wars past but also with a sense of anguished foreboding about wars yet to come. It was deeply moving and clearly heartfelt. I found this from her on Twitter this morning:

The first few bars of the War Requiem are enough to tell you right from the start this is music is coming from the same imagination that gave us Peter Grimes and a host of other masterpieces, and the quality of the music is sustained throughout the 85 minutes or so of its duration. There are some wonderful touches in the orchestration, such as the Dies Irae (with a definite nod in the direction of Verdi, but with tricky 7/8 rhythms). The Boys Choir was also used extremely effectively, the fact that they could not be seen (at least by me) adding to the ethereal quality of their voices. In all, it added up to an intense experience, I think for the musicians as well as the audience.

At the end of the music, David Brophy kept his arms (and baton) extended for a considerable time before gradually lowering them to signal the end of the performance. I really appreciated that several seconds of silence, which was immaculately observed by the audience. It’s good to have a time to reflect on what you’ve just heard before the applause begins. When the ovation had died down, the elderly lady sitting next to me (whom I’d never met before) turned to me and said `Wasn’t that wonderful?’. It was only then that I realised how powerfully I’d been affected. I tried to answer, but found I was a bit choked, and all I could get out was “Yes, it was”. I hope that didn’t come across as rude. It’s just that sometimes music expresses things that words can’t convey. Actually, come to think of it, that’s what it’s for.

Anyway, you don’t need to take my word for how good a concert it was, because you can watch the whole thing here:

(Please note that there are quite a few minutes of blank screen before it starts, but it is there!)

Congratulations to all the musicians involved last night for a tremendous performance, and thank you for a wonderful experience. It was a privilege to be there.

Bax, Vaughan Williams & Potter at the NCH.

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2018 by telescoper

Last night I was once again at the National Concert Hall in Dublin for a concert by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, this time conducted by Kenneth Montgomery. I took the above picture about five minutes before the start of the concert and, although a few more people arrived before the music began, it was a very low attendance. I don’t think the hall was more than 20% full. I’m not sure why. Perhaps Storm Callum made it difficult for some to make the journey to Dublin? I was delayed a bit on the way there from Maynooth, but I’m glad I made it because it was a fine concert.

I always appreciate it when unfamiliar works are programmed alongside more standard repertoire, and last night provided a good example of that. One piece was an established favourite among concert-goers, another I have on CD but have never heard live, and one I had never heard before at all.

The opening piece was In Memoriam by Arnold Bax. Although considered by many to be an archetypal English composer, Bax had a strong affinity for Ireland and indeed lived here from 1911 until the outbreak of war in 1914. I’ve always felt Bax’s music was greatly influenced by Sibelius, but he was very interested in Celtic culture and that comes across in his In Memoriam, which is built around a very folk-like melody. The work was composed to honour Pádraig Pearse, one of the leaders of the 1916 uprising, who was subsequently executed by the British authorities, and was written in the immediate aftermath of the rebellion in 1916. It is a very fine piece, in my opinion, starting in a rather elegiac mood, but with passages that celebrate of Pearce’s life than mourn his death, and the ending is very moving, like a beautiful sunset.

There was then a short delay while various rearrangements were made on stage. Off went the wind instruments and percussion, and into the space vacated by their departure moved a subset of the string instruments, creating a second (smaller) string orchestra separated from the remaining musicians. In addition, the principals of the relevant sections arranged themselves to form a string quartet around the conductor’s podium. If you didn’t know before reading this what was about to be played, then that description will no doubt have led you to conclude that it must be the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan Williams. This is an evergreen concert piece, for good reason, and the string players of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra delivered a very fine account of it. I remarked on the fine playing of the string section after the last concert I attended at the NCH, and they did it again.

After the interval was a piece I had never heard before, the Sinfonia “De Profundis” by Belfast-born A.J. `Archie’ Potter, composed fifty years ago in 1968, and first performed in 1969 by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra in Dublin. The title is a reference to Psalm 130, and some of the thematic material comes from liturgical music. In the composer’s own words:

As the title suggests, it is a musical account of one man’s own progress from despair over a particular circumstance in his life to spiritual recovery and (for the time being of course) triumph over the powers of darkness.

Although `a journey from darkness into light’ is a description that could apply to many symphonies (especially those of Beethoven), this work in five movements does not have a typically `symphonic’ structure in that it is based on variations on a theme drawn from a 16th century carol spread throughout the whole work rather than confined to one movement, alongside another element comprising a `tone row’. The juxtaposition of `traditional’ diatonic and `modernist’ serialist explorations generates tension which is only released at the very end, when it is released by the arrival of a new theme borrowed from the `Old 124th’.

That brief description of what is going on in this work doesn’t do justice at all to the impression it creates on the listener, which is of a richly varied set of textures sometimes mournful but sometimes boisterous, with dashes of robust humour thrown in for good measure. I’m not at all familiar with A.J. Potter, but I must hear more of his music. Based on this piece, he was both clever and expressive.

As a bonus we had an orchestral encore in the form of another piece by Archie Potter, much shorter and much lighter. Orchestral encores are rare in the UK, but seem to be less so here in Ireland.

After that I left in order to return to Maynooth. Appropriately enough, in the light of the piece by Bax, I took a train from Pearse station…

100 Years of ‘The Planets’

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on September 29, 2018 by telescoper

Not a lot of people know that today, 29th September 2018, is exactly one hundred years since the first ever performance of The Planets by Gustav Holst which took place at the Queen’s Hall in London.

As it happens, although I’ve heard countless performances of this work on the radio and on record, I had never heard it live – until last night at the National Concert Hall in Dublin.

From its arresting opening with the strings beating out quintuple time col legno battuto on Mars, The Bringer of War to the wordless singing at the end of Neptune, The Mystic the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by José Serebrier (and at the end, and in the wings, the ladies voices of the RTÉ Philharmonic Choir) gave a very good account of this enduringly popular work. The centrepiece of this suite of seven movements is Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity which consists of an intro and and outro either side of the famous ‘big tune’ (“Thaxted”) often sung as the hymn I Vow To Thee My Country. The string playing at that section was exceptional, with a lovely rich texture and a very well chosen stately tempo.

The only disappointment of this performance for me was the ending. The voices off are supposed to fade away gently until they are inaudible, but last night they cut off abruptly, rather ruining the intended effect.

This didn’t stop the audience giving the Orchestra a standing ovation, however, so obviously not everyone was bothered by the ending.

For the record I’ll just mention that the first half of the concert consisted of two shorter works. The opening piece was one of Leopold Stokowski’s rather unnecessary orchestral arrangements of music by Bach, in this case the famous Toccata & Fugue in D Minor. I spent the entire performance looking at the NCH’s fine concert organ and wishing the original was being played on that. Still, at least the Stokowski arrangement didn’t have a harpsichord in it.

The other first-half piece was far more interesting (to me), the world premiere of a piece by the conductor José Serebrier called Symphonic B A C H Variations for Piano and Orchestra. This is like a piano concerto in four movements each based a little riff made the four notes B A C and H (in German musical notation, B is B flat and H is B Natural – don’t ask me why). It’s an intriguing piece, which I hope I get to hear again, and was very well played by young Alexandre Kantorow.