Due to some great friends and some luck, we were able to secure two great seats to the ACO Vivacious concert last night. I was really looking forward to this concert as I hadn’t heard the ACO for a while, there seems to be great reviews for the guest musical director and I was keen to compare the Four Seasons to a recent concert of it I heard in Venice itself.
Alina Ibragimova was the guest director and lead violinist for this concert season, and as soon as she walked on, I’m sure she already caught the attention of every (unfortunately probably 40+ year old) male in the Perth Concert Hall. I was wondering how someone with her petite stature, cute face, funky hair and tender age of 23 (10 years younger than me!) could command a group like the ACO. But she immediately impressed me from the first movement of Bach’s The Art of Fugue. ACO was amazing yet again – the first movement was played without vibrato, but the intonation was perfect and the tone and interpretation extremely delicate, too delicate.
I was wondering how ACO would fare alternating movement’s of the Bach with Signs, Games and Messages by Gyorgy Kurtag. I imagine it would be hard to context switch between the different styles, but I think it was an interesting experiment in the end – it even made some of the Bach sound foreign at times. There were some great thoughtful and well executed solos and chamber playing from ACO. The last piece of the first half was what I’d term “difficult listening”. I could sense unease in some of the audience around me, and I was wondering what they must be thinking about of the three pieces from the Lyric Suite by Alban Berg. Luckily, the amazing execution by ACO kept me engaged throughout. Not being familiar with the piece at all, I’m not sure if it worked out well – especially the third (?) movement which was extremely complicated and all over the place. I was laughing on the inside because they could have all been out of time with each other or lost, but I don’t think anyone would know, because they all ended together – just like true professionals. Judging from the expressions of some of the players as they walked off the stage after that piece, I’m sure some things didn’t go quite to plan. (Note to all performers – even though you may have finished “playing” the piece, you’re still “performing” until you’re out of sight of the audience!!!)
The Four Seasons was what featured in the second half and I think this was the reason why the Perth Concert Hall was sold out, up to its upper gallery, and why many proud parents had brought their musical genius wannabe kids. Again, Alina’s and ACO’s execution was extremely delicate and precise. Was it fresh? Yes – it definitely was not the boring/usual interpretation and my wifey commented later how liberating it must be to be able to get to a stage of your playing and career where you CAN experiment like this. At which I replied, there’s nothing stopping amateurs doing that anyway! Was it authentic? I don’t know – but does it matter anymore? However, I am not totally convinced of the ACO performance – some of it was TOO liberally interpreted in my opinion, especially in Autumn. I wonder if people go out of their way to pull the music in different directions, just to be different, just because they can. I guess ACO didn’t claim to deliver an authentic performance, but a fresh one, so they achieved what they wanted and I wasn’t bored but wondering how they were going to play the next bit.
At times, I felt Alina’s playing was a little too introverted and chamber like (sometimes playing into her stand instead of to the audience), which would be OK in a smaller room, but at times in the Perth Concert Hall, she was slightly drowned out by the other ACO players. But I loved the use and non-use of vibrato for effect, the variation in bow speed in long notes, the use of dynamics in ways I hadn’t heard before for the Four Seasons. The sul ponticello in Winter seems to be the “fashion” lately as Interpreti Venezia did exactly the same when we saw them in Venice. Alina’s execution of the fast runs were energetic, but didn’t some fast passages didn’t seem as clear as Carmignola’s playing (but that is a studio recording).
So, in the end, a satisfying and inspirational night out, confirming that Australia really has one of the top ensembles in the world in the ACO. ACO seem too perfect at times, so it was refreshing to see Alina walk into the wrong door when exiting the stage after the first half, and (distracting and unfortunate!) to see her have problems with her music page turn over (due to Perth Concert Hall’s airconditioning breeze I think?) – yes they are human! Actually, I found that the time when her music did turn over and she had to play from memory was the time when her playing and performance was liberated the most. Oh how I wish I could be good enough to play with them one day.
As for Perth audiences – I know it’s winter season, and many people do try to hold their coughs until between movements, but even that because annoying or disrupting – when the performers (ACO) have to wait before starting the next movement because people are still coughing = BAD. Why don’t the venues offer free cough lollies (without crinkly wrapping)? Wouldn’t this help? And please, please, don’t unwrap crinkly cough lollies in the slowest quietest movements. The quieter you try to unwrap it, the longer it takes, the more agonizing it is for those around you!
Funnily, I decided to wear jeans and a shirt to the concert thinking ACO is meant to be fresh, vibrant, youthful… but I felt quite underdressed with most of the patrons being older and in suits/jackets. Even with snazzier photographs/posters/brochures and better online presence (see ACO’s blog here), I wonder if classical music will ever be more accessible to the younger generations. And why do Perth audiences feel the need to rush out as soon as a concert is over? The last ACO member hadn’t even left the stage yet and people were up on their feet trying to get to their car to beat the Perth “traffic”.