Monday, 23 November 2015

Why I'm at the LPO Wednesday Orozco-Estrada

Andrés Orozco-Estrada, new principal Guest Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducts Dvořák Cello Concerto and Mahler Symphony no 1 at the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday.  Listen to this clip HERE where he conducts the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra  in Saariaho, Sibelius and Brahms.   The mark of a good conductor, for me, is the way he or she respects the composer above all else. "We are here to serve the music, not the other way round" as Elly Ameling once said.

Saariaho, Sibelius and Brahms - three very different composers indeed, yet  Orozco-Estrada  understands how each of them functions.  Kaija Saariaho's music isn't easy to conduct, with its ultra-diaphanous textures and elusive tonality, and some of it is quite uneven.  Her Orion, which dates from 2002, is a specially beautiful work, Orion is the name of a group of stars in the galaxy, so the music  sparkles like starlight, prominent in darkness, faded yet still present in Brightness. Hence the absolute importance of detail, keeping sound distinct and clear so they shine together. A bit like the brushstrokes in an Impressionist painting. Or even like the silk scarves Saariaho likes to wear with myriad water colour shades. But Orion is also a hunter, a Greek god who roams forests and kills his prey.  Beneath Saariaho's finest work there's decisiveness and strength, a firmness which underpins the creamy textures. Orozco-Estrada  gets Saariaho. He gets how the luminosity springs from refined detail, yet purposely forges ahead.

James Ehnes is the soloist in Sibelius Violin Concerto. The piece is so familiar, and so good, that average performances are bearable enough. But this seems intensely personal.   Despite his successes and prodigious talent as a composer, Sibelius would have liked to have been a violin virtuoso.  Ehnes's playing is sensitive, making me think about Sibelius, the man, full of self doubt. That insecurity, born perhaps because Sibelius was an empathic person, is for me why his music is so powerful. Get past the Finland symbolism and what Mahler called "national flavouring" and focus on the deeper personality within.

Brahms, too, is often misunderstood.  Does he imbibe the Beidermeyer certainity so prevalent of his age (and alas of ours).  Or is there a deeper Brahms beneath the bonhomie?  For that reason, while I enjoy conventionally Romantic Brahms, I much prefer performances which suggest something more complex. When Orozco-Estrada conducts Brahms, he makes the composer feel clear-minded and thoughtful, warmth and geniality.  Orozco-Estrada  gets the grand stride of Brahms, but also reminds us that grandness for its own sake is no measure of humanity.

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