Tuesday, July 30, 2013

ACO Tour Five: Barefoot Fiddler

Photo by Marco Borggreve

Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO). Tour Five: BAREFOOT FIDDLER: Patricia Kopatchinskaja in the Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House.

Patricia Kopatchinskaja is known as the Barefoot Fiddler, because she is bare-footed when she plays her violin, and on this tour is the guest artist with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, (ACO), and, as with her stint with the orchestra in July 2010 is the Director of the program and lead violinist. It is as physically dynamic as last time and just as musically thrilling. Ms Kopatchinskaja has organised for this visit, a program to utilise the individual solo talents of the orchestra, and the generosity of her vision and respect for the orchestra, of spreading the opportunities of playing throughout the concert performance, pays off with inspired work from all. The camaraderie between this guest artist and the orchestra itself was self evident in the sheer concentration and joyful exchanges, by all, during the performance, from beginning to end.

The concert, Ms Kopatchinskaja has curated begins with Mozart: Adagio and Fugue in C Minor, K.546. This was composed in 1788, just as the Sydney colony at Circular Quay was been founded - makes me, contextually, agog - time, place and such! I had no familiarity with the music. Not a great work, but one that had, in my terms (within my limited musical knowledge), a possibility to be a cinematic/theatrical score. The fugue musical emphasis made me think of the Kubrick choices in a film such as BARRY LYNDON. I enjoyed it immensely. It was a pleasant warm-up to the afternoon.

The Concerto for Three Violins in D Major, BMV 1064 composed by Johann Sebastian Bach c.1730 featured, besides Ms Kopatchinskaja, Helena Rathbone, Principal Second Violin of the ACO, Rebecca Chan, a core member of the ACO since 2010, and the orchestra, including the harpischord. In fact the surviving 'original' music for this work was a Concerto in C major for three harpsichords but musicologists have researched and felt that the possibility of it having developed, over time, into a work for three violins, by Mozart is probable. This performance is using a reconstruction of the score undertaken by Wilfred Fischer for the New Bach Edition.

What is so thrilling is watching Ms Kopatchinskaja playing in her bare feet, almost dancing (thank goodness she is in bare feet otherwise a kind of flamenco sound might take over the concert musics), and using her bow like a fencing tool as she plays up to the other members of the orchestra, and I do mean kind of literally, challenging them to a fencing competition with bows, and seeing the 'challenged' and enthused artists 'riposting' in turn, whether they are standing or sitting - encouraging each other to higher levels of commitment and energetic inspiration. I began to watch the feet of all the artists and realised that the whole body involvement in the playing came from all, all their feet "danced", but Mademoiselle's, particularly - so, bare feet, not an affectation but a noise lessener, perhaps. Ha, ha! The speed of the playing and the ACO craftsmen's artistic accuracy of playing is so dare-devil in its pursuit, that the feeling that one is caught in a jet stream of a vertiginous draft made of music is overwhelming in its excitement. Plunging into its vortex is a blessing - a salve in this usual harsh world.

After the interval, the Principal Double Bass, Maxime Bibeau, introduced the latest addition to the orchestra's instrument collection. Made by Gasparo di Salo in Brescia, Italy, in the late 16th Century, it is over 430 years of age. The wood at the front came from a tree already aged at least two and a half centuries, making parts of the instrument around 700 years old.The sound we heard as Mr Bibeau played a short solo has immense power, wonderful depth and richness of sound. I felt is was the sound equivalent to a very dark, red wine of the highest quality: smooth, deep and robust. It was amusing to see the tall and lengthy Mr Bibeau (those hands and fingers!) almost enveloped by the scale of the instrument: Who was playing who? Mr Bibeau it, or, It playing Mr Bibeau? Certainly, the instrument, the di Salo, in scale, impressed one with a sense of maturity and weight and a more than equal presence beside the human.

A Concerto for Strings, Op.33 by Alberto Ginastera (1965), an Argentinian composer, followed. I was more impressed with the playing then with the music.

What followed, however, the Violin Concerto in D Minor for violin and string orchestra, composed in 1822 by Felix Mendelssohn, was altogether, a wonder. Who knew that Mendelssohn was such a 'modernist' adventurer? (this question comes from my ill informed background in music.) I was arrested and made to sit bolt up-right and alert to every moment of this concerto. The wisdom of Ms Kopatchinskaja's choice in music was rewarded with the solo parts undertaken by her, and followed, just as brilliantly, by Tiem-Viekko Valve (Cello), Helena Rathbone (Violin), Christopher Moore (Viola) and Maxime Bibeau (Bass), pushing the orchestra to higher demands of accuracy and speed in the playing of this entirely fascinating piece of music. Do apprehend that Mendelssohn is mostly known to me through the music of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM - it appears to me now, on hearing this work, a very, very ignorant platform, indeed. The Concerto was so stunning in its daring, to my ears, both the composition and the playing, that I wept at the comparative less daring of the writing in my field of practice, the theatre. More amazing is the fact that Mendelssohn wrote this when he was 14 years old!!! Way back then.

Two encores followed: a jokey, delightful 'jig' played by a dancing Barefoot Fiddler and Viola player, Mr Moor; and, lastly, the full orchestra gave us a piece by Astor Piazzolla, a pupil of Mr Ginastera. Irresistible.

Ms Kopatchinskaja led the orchestra with her idiosyncratically held violin, high above her head, in bare feet, off stage to cheering and grateful applause. A conquering musical 'hero' and 'army'. Music, the victor.

In all, a very inspiring and educational, enlightening concert. I have come to expect nothing less from this orchestra. Make a point of going - concerts are at Angel Place in Sydney this week, including a 1.30pm on Friday. It will make your day, your week, your month, until the next month, when the ACO, will return to give us something else to ponder.

The Jewel in the Crown of Sydney's Performing Artists: the Australian Chamber Orchestra - without question.

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