ORQUESTA FILARMONICA DE CAMARA DE MINSK
Annual Festival Internacional De Musica De Canarias, Teatro Victor Fernadez Gupar ´El Salinero´ Arrecife
By Norman Warwick with help from Iain & Margaret
Having already heard Cuarteto De Cuerda Quiroga and The London Concord Ensemble and Orquesta Baroque De Tenerife play at earlier concerts on Lanzarote as part of this year´s 35th Festival Internacional De Musica De Canarias we were certainly looking forward to our fourth concert of the Festival from an outfit that was promising us some interesting selections.
Imagine the torture, then, of a dilemma that saw us torn between this and another important and attractive event on the same evening. This Festival would have an added benefit of introducing us to the venue of El Salinero in Arrecife for the first time. Fortunately, we learned from our friends Iain and Margaret that they had already booked tickets to hear Orquestra Filarmonica De Camara De Minsk and so would be able to hang some first-hand comments of clothing on to the bare article I had already started.
I have not yet visited this arena, though I park outside it every other Sunday when watching UD Lanzarote play their home games.
With its tiled frontage and large lettering declaring its name, this theatre always reminds me, from the outside anyway, of the favourite venues we used to visit, such as The Bridgewater Hall or The Royal Northern College of Music, in Manchester.
The short list of likely offerings, by this Minsk ensemble, however, also included pieces by composers new to us, such as Anton Arensky, who, ´wiki´ inform us, was born into an affluent and music-loving family in Novgortod, Russia. By the age of only nine he was already composing songs and short piano pieces before the family moved to St. Petersburg in 1879 where Arensky studied composition, alongside Rimsky-Korsakov at the city´s great Conservatory. When he subsequently completed his studies he became a professor and mentor in Moscow and Rachmaninoff was one of his students. Arensky returned to Saint Petersburg to direct The Imperial Choir but after only six years in post retired on a comfortable pension to spend his time composing at the piano and undertaking some occasional conducting roles. Sadly, he died at the young age of only forty four of tuberculosis. Although it seems little is really known about Arensky´s private life it was alleged, somewhat uncharitably, by Rimsky-Korsakov that drinking and gambling hastened his demise. Whatever the truth of such observations, Arensky remains almost certainly unique amongst classical musicians, in having had a glacier named after him in the Antarctic. Many feel that Tchaikovsky was a great influence on Arensky´s compositions and Rimsky-Korsakov had some more derisory comments about that, too.
´In his youth, he did not escape some influence from me,´ he observed, before adding ´Later the influence came from Tchaikovsky, but Arensky will quickly be forgotten.´
The notion persisted that Arensky lacked an inimitable personal style and it was perhaps for that reason that his music was long-neglected after his death. In recent years, however, a large number of his works have been recorded and are now being included in concert performances by the likes of Orquestra Filarmonica De Camara De Minsk.
Indeed, Arensky´s best work is considered to be that he composed for chamber music, the genre in which this orchestra excels, and for which he created pieces for string quartets, and piano trios and quintets.
Classical guitarist and composer Carlos Enrique Gonzalez, another new name to us, is a contemporary composer, born in San Juan in Puerto Rico. At the age of fifteen he began learning to play guitar and immediately showed a flair for composition, too, and has created Puerto Rican dances for classical guitar.
The world is more widely aware of the energy of the work of Shostakovich, the Russian pianist who is now regarded as one of the major composers of the twentieth century.
For our friends, though, these promised parts, sadly, did not quite add up to a satisfying whole, as they explained in an e mail to us.
´We attended the concert by Orquesta de Camara Filarmonica de Minsk in Arrecife last night. Not our favourite of the season, I must say, being a bit too modern for my taste.´
´There were fifteen men and women in the orchestra, playing 3 violas, 2 cellos, 1 double base and an assortment of violins. The theatre was less than half full which is always a shame for the artists but maybe a reflection of the price per ticket of 35 euros. The largely ‘modern’ programme might have deterred some who prefer their classical music in a traditional manner. The ‘Cuatro estados de lo mismo’, for example, was a contemporary piece, by the 27 year old C Gonzalez Bolanos who was in the audience and who took a bow at the end.´
Those insightful observations from Iain left me wondering if the music of Grieg, later in the programme, might have proved more palatable.
Most often classified as a leading example of the Romantic, Grieg´s music has become a fixture on the global classical music playlist.
I am particularly fond of the pastoral beauty and force-of-nature power offered by Norwegian pianist and composer, Edvard Grieg, and I hoped that had perhaps pleased our friends. After all, he retrieved, repaired and sent forth into the future the Norwegian folk music of the past and presented it for the attention of the rest of the world. In so doing he became one of a handful of Norwegian artists who shaped their country. That is partly, I think, why he became such a highly celebrated artist, and it was fascinating to visit Bergen a few years ago and see so many statues of Grieg around the city that has named its largest concert arena Grieg Hall and its most prestigious music school The Grieg Academy.
We also visited Trolfhaugen, his former home, which is now a museum named after him. His name has even been attached to the Academy´s professional choir. Grieg was, at times, his own harshest critic and actually suppressed a symphony that, on completion, he remained unhappy with. Nevertheless, he wrote three successful sonatas, for violin, piano and cello recorded many more of his own piano compositions before his death in 1907. It is, though, perhaps Peer Gynt, incidental music written for a play by Henrik Ibsen, that is the music of Grieg most cherished in the public affection, and includes what has become his most often played extract in The Hall Of The Mountain King. .
The inclusion of Grieg’s music in this programme, however, went only some way to appeasing Iain and Margaret, who said almost as much in their e mail that
´However, Grieg’s Holberg suite at the end made up for it a bit. One encore whose title I should recall, but cannot, was ‘light’ classical and, again enjoyable. Overall, though, this performance did not, alas, generate the same impact or enjoyment as the concert up in the Convent the other night.´
I am reminded, in all of this, of something American songwriter John Stewart once said to me in an interview when we were discussing the artist´s difficulty in satisfying the tastes of his audience whilst at the same time satisfying his own need for creative development.
´The trouble´ observed John, ´is that people like what they know but don´t know what they like.´
Having spent his early years in music as a banjo player, guitarist, singer and songwriter in The Kingston Trio he had become well used to including folk standards like Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley in their act every night. In fact, it was this endless repetition that was a major factor in his announcement in 1967 that he was leaving the hit group to follow a solo career. He might have expected fans of The Kingston Trio to be at least loyal enough to retain an interest in his new venture. He enjoyed immediate solo success as a songwriter when The Monkees carried his Daydream Believer to the top of the charts and gave him a new and massive fan base. However his original folkie fans found the lyrics unfathomable and almost immediately lost interest in his career. Ah well, at least he was now a commercial success,…. but that came at a familiar cost. Daydream Believer was not typical of his earlier folk music nor of a new direction in his song-writing, and his own version of his own song was nothing like as sweet and sing-along as the recording made by Davy, Mike, Peter and Mickey. For several years fans of The Monkees turned up at John Stewart solo gigs yelling to hear Daydream Believer but then made their anger known when he didn´t sing it the way the manufactured foursome had,….a manufactured foursome who, by the way, had a yearning to produce their own great art. Mike Nesmith in particular went on to do so, with some wonderful Americana music, but hardly anyone listened.
Knowing Iain and Margaret as we do, we are sure that whilst on this occasion the end results weren´t for them, they still nevertheless support the artist´s right to experiment and diversify.
However, artists recognise that as they create something new, or simply interpret something old in a new way, they can never predict how the world will react to those creations with any degree of certainty. In other words, there can be no creativity without risk.
Sidetracks & Detours have featured scores of innovative and risk-taking artists, who take such risks in search of artistic fulfilment and achievement rather than for commercial gain.
For every artist who cries out, Look What They´ve Done To My Song, Ma there are a hundred who write work intended for light years of travel and generally appreciate any attempt by other artists to reinterpret that work.