Sunday, 3 September 2017

In rehearsal: Kristjan Jarvi & the Baltic Sea Philharmonic at the Elbphilharmonie

In rehearsal: Kristjan Järvi & Baltic Sea Philharmonic at the Elbphilharmonic (Photo (c) BMEF / Peter Adamik)
In rehearsal: Kristjan Järvi & Baltic Sea Philharmonic at the Elbphilharmonic (Photo (c) BMEF / Peter Adamik)
Kristjan Järvi and the Baltic Sea Philharmonic concluded their recent Summer tour with a presentation of their Waterworks programme at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg on 29 August 2017, with soloist Mikhail Simonyan (see my review). Having arranged to cover the concert and hear the Elbphilharmonie in action, I was invited to attend the orchestra's rehearsal on the afternoon of the concert.

In rehearsal: Kristjan Järvi & Baltic Sea Philharmonic at the Elbphilharmonic (Photo (c) BMEF / Peter Adamik)
Lightdesigner Bertil Mark setting up lights for the final Waterworks concert –
combining music, light, projections, sounds and fashion
(Photo (c) BMEF / Peter Adamik)
#From the outside, the Elbphilharmonie is somewhat forbidding,  huge brick warehouse topped by an equally huge glass structure. The public pays to go up to piazza level (the top of the brick structure) to see the view. I have to negotiate the stage door; this involves a lift to the 10th floor (which I shared with a dozen or so of the performers), a welter of waiting for lifts, clean white modern back-stage areas, and an unplanned encounter with Maestro Kristjan Järvi (we first met in 2016 when I interview him).  Then suddenly we are in the main concert hall, an astonishing space with off-white textured walls  and balconies snaking round all sides. A very striking space, it has real presence.

The Baltic Sea Philharmonic is a young ensemble, with young people from all ten Baltic states, and this is their first encounter with the hall. But this is not just a music call and sound check, the concert involves elaborate presentation and light show, so lights are flashing all around as well. I am amazed at how focussed the performers are, with technicians wandering round and a photographer, not to mention assembling the light show, with the video projections forming distinctive patterns on the acoustic texturing of the walls.

In rehearsal: Kristjan Järvi & Baltic Sea Philharmonic at the Elbphilharmonic (Photo (c) BMEF / Peter Adamik)
Full concentration: Baltic Sea Philharmonic
in rehearsal at Elbphilharmonic
(Photo (c) BMEF / Peter Adamik)
The programme is challenging enough, arrangements of Handel, alongside music by Charles Coleman, Gene Pritsker and Philip Glass, including the Violin Concerto No. 2 (with Mikhail Simonyan) and the large-scale suite Aguas da Amazonia. The orchestra has been on tour for ten days, taking their Baltic Folk programme (which includes Stravinsky's Firebird played from memory) to Germany, Sweden and Italy, and then doing this Waterworks programme in Germany and at the Usedom Music Festival, finishing here at the Elbphilharmonie.

When the orchestra finally starts, the sound in the hall is strikingly clear. There are a lot of musicians on stage, including much percussion and a drum kit, but you can hear with clarity and some warmth. The orchestra's familiar vibrant tone really does come over. But the hall gives nowhere to hide either, it is not an acoustic which bathes the performers in an all encompassing glow, which certainly puts the young players on their mettle.

Coming from so many different countries, and with a chief conductor who was born in Estonia but raised in the USA, the orchestra's rehearsal language is English. Kristjan is a very physical conductor, his style involves not just indicating but graphically demonstrating, and the players clearly respond, which makes for pretty vivid listening and looking. But is is also clear that he has a precise idea of what he seeks to achieve. And this rehearsal involves putting the most challenging passages through the crucible of the hall's acoustic.

I leave, impressed with what is being achieved and curious about the final concert.
In rehearsal: Kristjan Järvi & Baltic Sea Philharmonic at the Elbphilharmonic (Photo (c) BMEF / Peter Adamik)
Test patterns prior to the ‚Waterworks‘ concert show that will transform the building into an aquarium of the senses
(Photo (c) BMEF / Peter Adamik)


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