Friday 1 September 2017

Glass & more: Baltic Sea Philharmonic's Waterworks at the Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg

 Kristjan Järvi & Baltic Sea Philharmonic at the Elbphilharmonic (Photo (c) BMEF / Peter Adamik)
 Kristjan Järvi & Baltic Sea Philharmonic at the Elbphilharmonic (Photo (c) BMEF / Peter Adamik)
Waterworks, Philip Glass, Charles Coleman, Gene Pritsker, Handel; Mikhail Simonyan, Baltic Sea Philharmonic, Kristjan Järvi; Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 29 2017
Star rating: 5.0

Kristjan Järvi and his young players fill the Elbphilharmonie with vibrant music-making

Mikhail Simonyan, Kristjan Järvi & Baltic Sea Philharmonic at the Elbphilharmonic (Photo (c) BMEF / Peter Adamik)
Mikhail Simonyan, Kristjan Järvi & Baltic Sea Philharmonic
(Photo (c) BMEF / Peter Adamik)
The final stop of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic's Summer tour saw the orchestra, under its founder and artistic director Kristjan Järvi, making its debut at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. (See my interview with Kristjan Järvi where we talk about the programme) The programme, Waterworks, combined music with an immersive visual setting produced by Bertil Mark, Lars Falkner and Philipp Geist of Kristjan Järvi's Sunbeam Productions, and with costumes for the orchestra courtesy of the label house Monton. The music combined Charles Coleman's orchestration of Philip Glass's suite Aguas da Amazonia and Glass's Violin Concerto No. 2 'The American Four Seasons', with the young Russian violinist Mikhail Simonyan, and the evening started with a pot-pourri of water-themed works, excerpts from Handel's Water Music alongside Charles Coleman's Drenched and Gene Pritsker's Water Possessed Afresh, The orchestra, made up of young musicians from the ten Baltic states, was joined by three members of the New York-based Absolute Ensemble, Mat Fieldes (electric bass), Charlie Porter (trumpet) and David Rozenblatt (percussion).

We entered the hall with the striking visuals playing on ceiling and walls, and sounds of water around us. The visual side, whilst very striking, was not perhaps sufficiently immersive and I understand at other venues on the tour the designers had been able to create a more total environment. But then, the Grosser Saal of the Elphilharmonie is a striking experience in its own right.

Baltic Sea Philharmonic at the Elbphilharmonic (Photo (c) BMEF / Peter Adamik)
Baltic Sea Philharmonic at the Elbphilharmonic
(Photo (c) BMEF / Peter Adamik)
Water percussion effects led us into the orchestral music, starting with a rock/baroque mash-up in which fragments of the storm from Vivaldi's The Four Seasons wandered in and out of focus. This first suite moved from rock/baroque, through Handel played reasonably straight with creditable style, to orchestral baroque through Grieg (I think) to conclude with a another highly rhythmic orchestral rock number. It worked, thanks to the orchestra's sheer enthusiasm and vitality, and the attention to detail. Kristjan Järvi might be a natural showman, but he ensured that his young players gave impressively on the pulse performances.

Philip Glass's Violin Concerto No. 2 'The American Four Seasons' was written in 2009 as a response to Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, but Glass's reaction to the Vivaldi is guarded and he does not reveal which movement is which. Add to this, that each of the four movements is preceded by a solo violin movement (prologue and three songs) and the result is striking in its own right. Written for strings and keyboard, this was the most intimate music of the evening. The Philip Glass on display was a long way form the Glass of Einstein on the Beach, and the music was notable for the way Glass kept control of the textures with great fluidity, rather than laying down a rhythmic pattern and letting it flow. There was little peaceful noodling here.
We started with a solo violin prologue, with Mikhail Simonyan (playing from memory) evoking the music as a response to Bach. Rather than the solo violin moments punctuating the orchestral music, it more felt as if Glass allowed each movement to run its course, gradually unwinding into the solo violin line. Within this fluid structure there was much to enjoy, perhaps most notably a wonderfully lyrical slow movement.

Kristjan Järvi & Baltic Sea Philharmonic at the Elbphilharmonic (Photo (c) BMEF / Peter Adamik)
Kristjan Järvi & Baltic Sea Philharmonic
at the Elbphilharmonic (Photo (c) BMEF / Peter Adamik)
At 40 minutes long it is a full on tour-de-force for the solo violin and Simonyan's performance was all the more impressive for the way his virtuosity was often delivered with understated elegance, even the high velocity music in the finale. Simonyan was finely partnered by Kristjan Järvi and the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, with the young players giving Glass's music a vivid intensity matching that of the soloist. This was music making of a high order.

The music in the second half, Philip Glass's Aguas da Amazonia, was perhaps more crowd pleasing and certainly dazzlingly orchestrated by Charles Coleman to show off the different sections of the orchestra, but I do not thing the 55 minute work was quite as musically satisfying as the concerto. What made it was the energy and commitment of the players, conveying every inch of vitality in the music.

Structured as 10 movements each depicting a tributary of the river Amazon, the later movements all seemed to rely a little too heavily on the example of Villa Lobos's train music, though in Kristjan Järvi and the orchestra's hands the results were intoxicatingly exciting. At times this did not sound like Philip Glass and we were aware that a number of hands were responsible for the work both in assembling the original suite and then Charles Coleman's orchestration.

Coleman gave us some fine solo moments, Charlie Porter's trumpet had a rather Spanish solo, Mat Fieldes' electric bass had its moment in the spotlight, as did instruments as varied as the orchestral basses and the trombones. Much of the writing was challenging, and this was a real orchestral work-out, a concerto for orchestra which the players performed with style, vitality and highly communicative energy.

Kristjan Järvi & Baltic Sea Philharmonic at the Elbphilharmonic (Photo (c) BMEF / Peter Adamik)
Kristjan Järvi & Baltic Sea Philharmonic at the Elbphilharmonic (Photo (c) BMEF / Peter Adamik)
This was a long concert, but the energy of Kristjan Järvi and his players seemed boundless. Their encore evolved from a choral piece into a group improvisation which led to Kristjan Järvi jumping into the auditorium to encourage audience members to get up and dance. It is a testament to the performers' infectious vitality that the sober burgers of Hamburg did just that.

Things did not end there, and when we descended to the quayside after the concert, members of the orchestra were giving an impromptu outdoor concert.

Elsewhere on this blog:

1 comment:

  1. Short addition: The choral piece/improvisation was performed by the hamburg girls choir - an quit excellent amateur choir from hamburg.


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