Posted from Bratislava, Slovak Republic
Here at the only Internet cafe in Bratislava that I can find, I am struggling with a crazy Eastern European keyboard and what are for me the difficulties of usingï¿½yahoo. It’s an arkward combination, not madeï¿½anz easier bz the fact that whenever I tzpe z I get y and whenever I tzpe y I get z. So it comes out as zahoo unless I concentrate verz carefullz.
But enough of trivia. I got to Bratislava last Friday and leave next Monday, and so far it’s been great. I have lucked into a classical music festival, the initials for the Slovak title of which are BHS. So when I went to the concert on Saturday, I thought, oh no, theyï¿½ve done a truly tacky sponsorship deal. But all was well.
The concert however was dull, I thought.ï¿½ï¿½The solo pianist, Ivan Moravec, is world-renowned, but frankly he made his two pieces, the Franck Variations for Piano and Orchestra and the Ravel Concerto, sound to me like run-throughs. Maybe it was me. Maybe it is that he looks like a waiter. Whatever, everyone else seemed happy.
But then on Sunday, there was Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting the Czech Philharmonic in Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. It was sold out of course, but I went along anyway, and a Japanese gent sold me a ticket, for the Slovak equivalent of about £6 sterling ($9 US). Unbelievable. As was the performance. For once all the flim-flam of classical musical ovations – a loud a pretentious ‘bravo’ as soon as the last chord went silent, vast gobs of flowers for the lady solo singers and even for the gentleman conductor, constant returns to the platform for more applause, rhythmic applause – all seemed entirely appropriate. Ashkenazy is a tiny man, but his conducting both made the absolute most of each passing musical moment and madeï¿½the piece as a whole – and what aï¿½whole it is – all hang together. He has the ability that all the best conductors have of being able to flap his stick arm about like a madman, while keeping not just his torso but also his other arm absolutely immobile. So the flapping arm dealt with the here and now, while the rest of him made sure that the ‘paragraphing’ of the music, so to speak, still made sense. The only problems were the ensemble of the trumpet section, which wouldn’t do if they ever try to turn the evening into a CD, andï¿½the coughing of the audience, ditto times five. The trumpets were otherwise excellent, and their occasional fluffs mattered to me not at all, but the coughing madeï¿½me think murder. But,ï¿½the vital silence thatï¿½happens just before the chorus starts to sing in the final movement was, againstï¿½all the odds, truly silent. When the choral singing did get underway, it was magnificent.
Theï¿½hall of the Slovak Philharmonicï¿½is really too small for the tremendous din that went on inside it that night, but for me this only added to the impact. No way could I play this piece as loudly on my CD machine, because the neighbours would have me expelled mid-way into theï¿½first movement.ï¿½ï¿½Concertsï¿½in such halls are often marred by traffic noises, but thisï¿½was a concertï¿½I can imagine having seriously threatened the concentration of passing motorists.ï¿½ï¿½It’s aï¿½huge piece, with no holding back, especially in the first and last movements. Mahler is out toï¿½borrow the very voice of God. So all in all, it was the complete and perfect opposite of the night before, and a memory to treasure for a lifetime.
What has all that to do with the usual pre-occupations of Samizdatistas, such as the ongoing War on Terrorism? Well put it this way:ï¿½it’s what is being defended.