Exoticism won over traditionalism at this
concert, conducted by the Japanese-American maestro, Kent Nagano. One of the
joys of the program was the performance of a suite from Zhao Jiping’s sublime Farewell
My Concubine film score, featuring a small orchestra of ethnic Far Eastern
instruments and soprano soloist, placed in front of the Berlin Philharmoniker.
(EuroArts’ minimal notes – just half a page – might have assisted with
identifying these performers and their instruments.) The ethnic instruments
enhanced the music considerably, adding dimension and character to the texture.
The music has a haunting pathos, and excitement, in the form of a thunderous
gallop, and a most appealing Late Romantic-like coda that might have been
penned by Steiner or Korngold.
The orchestra, viewed from an outdoor
audience’s perspective in Berlin’s Waldbühne, was dominated by a huge drum
poised vertically and centred above and to the rear of the players. This
gigantic drum was, undoubtedly, the star attraction of this colourful,
cosmopolitan concert. It was poised as though to summon King Kong, and it
figured prominently in both Isao Matsushita’s Hi-Ten-Yu (Fly-Heaven-Play),
a concerto for drums and orchestra, and Eitetsu Hayashi’s Utage.
(Again, the notes give little or no detail of the works performed.) We are told
that “Eitetsu Hayashi is a famous master of wadaiko, the traditional art
of Japanese drumming.”
began softly with a deep rumble from the huge drum and some virtuoso playing on
a large array of assorted drums spread across from the orchestra’s percussion
section. Matsushita’s orchestration also kept the Berlin Philharmoniker’s
percussion busy. I will draw a veil over the cacophony that was Matsushita’s
modernistic writing for the orchestra; this clearly left the audience bemused.
More striking was the amazing extended cadenza, played solely on that imposing
drum. It reawakened the audience and had them giving Eitetsu Hayashi a standing
ovation for his amazing performance, coaxing both thunder and delicacy from his
instrument. Utage was another item performed on the big drum that
riveted audience attention.
The main attraction for many will have been
the appearance of the American mezzo-soprano, Susan Graham, singing six George
Gershwin melodies: Fascinatin’ Rhythm; The Man I Love; Nice Work If
You Can Get It; Someone To Watch Over Me; Summertime; and I Got
Rhythm. Cross-over singing can have its drawbacks and I have to report
that I was not completely won over by Ms Graham’s way with Gershwin. Sometimes
I was too aware of the performer’s vocal dexterity at the expense of the line
of the song; but having said that she certainly was animated and expressive.
(And maybe I am overly conscious of the great Ella Fitzgerald’s performances?)
Of the other items in the concert: Sisters
Mari and Momo Kodama made exciting and lyrical soloists in French composer,
Jean-Pascal Beintus’s brief He Got Rhythm (Hommage à George Gershwin).
Also Nagano led the orchestra in a performance of Ravel’s La Valse that
accentuated not only the lilts but also the sardonic, satirical aspects of the
work. His Daphnis and Chloé was scintillating and exciting.
A concert dominated and highlighted by Far
Eastern music that thrilled and fascinated.