Transcendent music

Some years ago, I compiled a list of purposes that may motivate composers, performers or listeners of music, under the heading What is music for?

An objective that may motivate many performers is that of reaching a transcendent state, as the Russian-Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg, describes here. His blog post was written after he had performed all five Beethoven Piano Concertos with the Brussels Philharmonic (under Thierry Fischer) across three evenings, in February 2020 (blog entry of 18 February 2020):

The high point for me was No. 4, during which I experienced something which until now I’ve only felt while playing Russian music: a kind of floating, when your brain disengages or splits in two. One (small) part is alert and following the performance, and perhaps directs the musical flow a little bit, the other (much larger) part is completely sunk into the music, experiencing it in a kind of visceral, instinctive way which precludes logical thinking and seems wired directly to your deepest feelings, without any buffers or defenses. After that concerto I was drained, bewildered, exhilarated – a complete mess. But what an unforgettable night.”

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Concert Concat 2

This post is one in a sequence which lists live music I have heard, as best my memory allows, from the Pandemic onwards. I will update this as time permits. In some cases, I am also motivated to write about what I heard.

Other posts in this collection can be found here.

  • Southbank Sinfonia at St John’s Church Waterloo, Wednesday 21 February 2024. This ensemble comprises newly-graduated musicians in their first foray into professional orchestral performance, so the line-up changes completely each year. The program comprised:

    • Sergei Prokofiev: Symphony #1 (Classical), Op 25
    • Sally Beamish: Hover
    • WA Mozart: Symphony #41 (Jupiter).

    This was a most joyous concert, and finely played. Because all seats in the orchestra were occupied by the performers, I sat as close as I possibly could, in the front row.

    Despite hearing Prokofiev’s first symphony many times, the tonal spikiness of many of his melodies and their surprising developments I still find somewhat alien to my thinking. I also find it remarkable that he wrote this work while his home city was undergoing revolution; I hear no trace of that in the music.

    Hover by Sally Beamish (who was in the audience) was new to me and very pleasant. The work centres on an oboe solo, intended to represent a hovering kestrel, playing a melody which then moves around the orchestra. Much of the sound world created is very low volume, which sometimes made it hard to distinguish the music from the low rumblings of nearby underground trains. It would be an interesting task for a composer to incorporate low train sounds into a site-specific composition.

    The performance of the Jupiter was also excellent. This symphony never fails to lift my spirits: the final movement contains the greatest fugue written by anyone in the 75 years between the death of Bach and the composition of Mendelssohn’s Octet.

  • Matan Porat in a lunch-time recital at St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, London, Friday 16 February 2024. The church was about 3/4 full. The program was mostly Bach:
    • Bach/Liszt: Prelude and Fugue in A Minor BWV543
    • Bach/Porat: Chorale Prelude: Kommst Du nun, von Himmel herunter auf Erden BWV650
    • Bach/Feinberg: Chorale Prelude: Were nun denj lieben Gott BWV647
    • Bach/Kurtag: Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit BWV106
    • Bach/Busoni: Chorale Prelude: Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g’mein BWV734
    • Brahms/Busoni: 3 Chorale Preludes Op 122: Herzlich tut mich erfreuen; Es ist ein Ros entsprungen; Herzlich tut mich verlangen
    • Bach/Feinberg: Largo from Sonata for Organ in C Major BWV529
    • Bach/Porat: Chaconne from Partita for violin in d minor BWV1004.

    Mr Porat’s playing was very good, and the Chaconne was close to sublime. The audience called him back several times, and he played at least one encore. But I wanted to leave with the Chaconne in my head, so did not stay for the encores.

  • I was most fortunate this past week (7-13 February 2024) to hear live-streamed several of the recitals performed as part of the 18th European Piano Competition in Bremen, Germany. The final round comprised wonderful performances of Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto (Viktor Soos), 4th Piano Concerto (Alexander Doronin) and 3rd Piano Concerto (Théotime Gillot), each playing with the Bremer Philharmoniker under Tung-Chieh Chuang. The EKW 2024 website currently still has recordings of all the performances.

    Congratulations to the prize-winners and to all the participants.

    • Théotime Gillot – 1st prize
    • Viktor Soos – 2nd prize
    • Alexander Doronin – 3rd prize
    • Théotime Gillot – Audience Award
    • Théotime Gillot – Prize for the youngest person taking part in the semi-final
    • Lukas Katter – Siegrid Ernst-Prize for the best interpretation of a piece composed by a female composer (Lili Boulanger)
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Concert Concat 1

As part of the diverse mental attic that this blog is, this post simply lists live music I have heard, as best my memory serves, up until the pandemic. In some cases, I am also motivated to write about what I heard.

Other posts in this series are listed here.

  • Gulce Sevgen, piano, in a concert at the Gesellschaft fur Musiktheatre, Turkenstrasse 19, Vienna 1090, Austria, 15 November 2018.   This venue turned out to be a small room holding 48 seats in a converted apartment.  There were 20 people present to hear Ms Sevgen play JS Bach’s Chromatic Fantasie & Fugue in d-minor BWV903, Beethoven’s Pastorale Sonata, excerpts from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet”, Mendelssohn’s Variations Serieuses, Op. 54, and Liszt’s Concert Etude E/M A218 and Zweite Ballade, E/M A181.  Ms Sevgen’s performance throughout was from memory, a quite remarkable feat.  Her playing was perhaps too loud for the size of the room, even with the piano lid half-down. The Bach, Beethoven and Mendelssohn were all excellent.  I have remarked before that I do not “get” the music of Prokofiev.  His music for Romeo and Juliet is a prime example:  the famous dance with its large-footed stomping bassline conjures up, for me, Norwegian trolls not feuding Italian merchant families, as if the composer had read a different play altogether. (Mendelssohn’s and Shostakovich’s incidental music to Shakespeare, by contrast, both make perfect sense.)  The playing of the Liszt works was fluent and articulate, but devoid of any meaning; it is perhaps unfair to ask performers to add meaning where there was none, since these are simply show-off pieces, all style and no substance.  But it is not unfair to ask performers not to play such vapid, meaningless music in public.
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