Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Guitar Concerto at the NCH

Having squirmed from the residue of an emotional sneeze I was in good spirits on my way to the National Concert Hall. I had a ciggie in one hand and a banana in the other. My woollen jacket was bound up to the throat, my torn hat was tugged down over my ears and my opera tinkled into the street from rubbery headphones. It was fair weather that day, in as much as the austere sun glared at the cold, but despite the gleam everybody scowled. It occurred to me that I was on my way to something new and, significantly, they were not.

I had sat halfway down and halfway in. I was of the impression that the 'acoustics were better' there, but with my ears I probably couldn't tell. A chorus of foreign syllables echoed over one another in waves and I couldn't tell what language was being spoken in the crowd. Was it English? French? Slovakian? The lady next to me offered her husband a sweet, or did she? His body said yes, his voice said no. It was as though the semantics had gone, had been repelled, like a vampire baulking at the doors of church. Instead there was no language, not for me, except for the mingled susurrus of a waiting crowd. Soon, of course, that would pass as well.

The audience came in three kinds of shape. There was my kind, interested pretenders who would never know if what they were listening to was great, the old hats with mottled beards who smiled a lot and wanted everyone to have a jolly good time, and the neophytes in escort, beardless blazers mopped with lush, young hair and their delicate, mousey teacher with a thumping heart and flushed cheeks. The stage, on the other hand, was inhuman. The slim music stands stood like aerials in a winter forest and were surrounded by pastel blue seats and thin, fishing hook microphones that hung in stasis from a marionette high above. The only thing of character was a leaning double bass. It looked as though it had eaten too much pork and lay fat and lazy on the corner of a chair, like you do on Christmas afternoon.

There was a little ado for the entrance of the orchestra and then Raymond Deane opened the session with Embers. It breathed and swarmed with melancholy tension reminding me for some reason of The Silence of the Lambs, echoed comically by the imitative gurgling of a baby in the rear stalls. There was favourable applause and humour as one happy beard stood in appreciation and was applauded in return by the conductor himself. Bashful violinists made noiseless clapping motions with their bows as if they were unused to being seen and didn't like to make a commotion.

Benjamin Dwyer in his Guitar Concerto No.1 made the piece look difficult. It would be proper if another musician could give a second opinion. Was it as hard as it looked or just idiosyncratic? I can never tell. That's why I always think Jazz looks amazing, even if it is mostly just masturbation. The concerto fed you both orchestral and solo motifs that gradually crossed and blended with curious and rigorous tempo. I felt the tension physically. It broke and sung sadly and then screeched and subsided. It was quite rough on the senses but beautiful and, for me, complex. At the conclusion, I mean at the penultimate and then ultimate stroke of the last bow, at that moment a lady coughed with phlegm, and then cleared her throat. Dwyer signified his disapproval with a shake of his head and a glance to the composer, as if raising his eyes to heaven. I think he was one of the few who saw his point although I sympathised.

The third selection, Rajas, Sattva & Tamas, with wind and percussion, threw out a visceral, chewable passion that had my heart throbbing and the lush haired adolescents perched up on their seats like meerkats. It was these last pieces that made sense of the disharmonious opening. It had been mapped, from taut, minimalist, single faceted Embers, to the wild, slinging dissonance of the Guitar Concerto No.1, to the final, rowdy ardour. It moved me and let me think. At first I'd decided I wasn't going to call it a pleasure because it seemed like something else. Was it a chore? Can you sense a chore? Does it make you feel good? Whatever it was, it was worth it and probably worth a better audience. Screen for colds and flu Mr. Dwyer, I can tell you abhor them. What's the point in writing a perfectly good piece of music then for some person to add their own instrument? It's like having sex with some girl and her not keeping still...

DIARIT: 8/10

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