I think I was misled as a child......
AMC attended two Orchestre de Paris, one at the Salle Pleyel
and one at Cite de la Musique. But a bit
of background first.
When AMC was just a
boy, he read "High Fidelity" and "Stereo Review" magazines
from cover-to-cover, several times. AMC
particularly liked the record reviews, where both the performance and the
recordings were rated on a scale. Reviewers
were critical of French orchestras, including the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire,
which was the predecessor to the Paris Orchestra. The critics were constantly talking down
French horn players because of their wavering tone (much like vibrato). Even now, the Paris orchestra never makes it
onto any list of the world's best orchestras.
Usually only German, American and London-based orchestras make the top
ten. And in the top ten, only the
members of the "Big Five" usually make it (the exception is the
Philadelphia Orchestra- it dropped out of the top 10 in the 2008
rankings). AMC sees a certain bias in
these rankings. and anyway, aren't rankings
related to "Best" rather silly if there are no standardized criteria?
So AMC was not expecting a great deal from the Paris orchestra. AMC was wrong.
The first concert was at the home of
the orchestra, the Salle Pleyel, with conductor Ingo Metzmacher (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ingo_Metzmacher).
in the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 17 was superstar Emanuel Ax
is the third time this season that AMC has heard Mr. Ax. The first was in a solo recital in Lincoln,
NE, and the second was with the Atlanta
Symphony in Atlanta. All of this was
chance, lest someone think AMC stalks Mr. Ax.
The Mozart concerto is not as over-played as some of his later
piano concertos so it still holds some interest for AMC. Mr. Ax performed beautifully and Mr.
Metzmacher provided wonderful orchestral support. Only once did AMC think the balance between
the orchestra and soloist was problematic.
This was in the first movement where the piano was overwhelmed but I
think this was more due to Mr. Ax being more pianissimo that was needed. Mr. Ax granted an encore in response to
numerous curtain calls and the audiences rhythmic clapping. apparently that is so much more effective in
eliciting encores than Atlanta's de rigueur standing ovation.
The orchestra was seated in the
European style, surprising AMC knows. AMC
finds this seating arrangement to provide for greater definition between the
first and second violins and enhancement of the lower strings.
The second half of the concert was
dedicated to the Bruckner Mass No. 3 in F minor (for a listen to the Kyrie
section of this work go here:
is of course the composer of interminably long symphonies that, to AMC's ear,
requires a great of editing because so much of each piece contains so much
repetitive music. The other characteristic of Bruckner's
symphonies that AMC is not partial to is what AMC calls his "bellows"
style of composing. If any of Bruckner's
symphonies are seen in an audio editor, it is easy to see the very repetitive crescendos and decrescendos that appear at
regularly occurring intervals throughout.
Maybe the composer did this because of he was an organist, so AMC thinks
the bellows analogy fits well. But for
AMC this makes Bruckner's symphonies to be quite the soporific. By the very
structure of the Mass with its various sections (Kyrie, Sanctus, Gloria, etc. ) the composer was forced to be a bit
more spare in this composition. AMC believes
that this structure helped Bruckner develop a stronger, less repetitive, and
more focused style in the F Minor
Mass. AMC also likes this piece better
than the composer's symphonic output.
For this performance, the soloists
were seated on a riser behind and above the orchestra. The Orchestra of Paris' Choir was seated
above and behind the soloists. AMC
thinks this arrangement is far superior to usual arrangement of having the
soloists to the right or left of the conductor.
This was a noble, intelligent, superior performance. The orchestra was simply outstanding. The horns are supple and never seem to have
intonation problems. After awhile, it
was a relief for AMC not to have to anticipate a sour note, given that AMC has
learned to anticipate errors from the hometown orchestra. In addition, the orchestra's musicians love to
play music, and they communicate that with their physicality. The woodwinds are incredible. The bassoon's are outstanding. They move with the music just as much as the
strings. In many US orchestras they tend
to sit motionless. AMC thinks that being
involved physically in playing makes for a much better, more convincing performance. The
principal oboe player was also animated and stylish. The choir was phenomenal. Their tone and articulation was first
class. Credit goes to their chief Lionel
Sow, but also to Mr. Metzmacher who seemed to understand the relationship between
the hall's acoustical environment and the levels at which both the choir sang,
and the orchestra played. This ended up
to be a real partnership between the orchestra, choir and soloists. At AMC's hometown, the chorus is thunderous and
continually wrestles for dominance with the orchestra. The soloists were all top rate, with the
possible exception of the Mezzo soprano, Ms. Pokupic. She had particularly difficulty initially-
she seemed hesitant. She also had
difficulty in her lower registers. But
this was a grand performance of the first order.
Maestro Metzmacher seems to thoroughly enjoy his
job. He seems perpetually pleased with
his musicians and he seems to have a constant smile.
AMC love the acoustics of the Salle
Pleyel. Every section of the orchestra
could easily be identified in the acoustic place, even with AMC's eyes closed.. There was no smear in the sound when there
are grand fortes. The hall resembles Atlanta's
symphony Hall visually, but that is where the comparison ends. Both are simple and spare, but one is a
sympathetic space for an orchestra and the other is not. The lobby areas of the Salle Pleyel are
simple, with hardly any adornment, unlike the Garnier Opera House. But of course, adornment does not make an
orchestra sound better.
AMC noticed a few unimportant
stylistic items. After the piano was
tuned, a gray-suited gentleman took a polishing cloth to the entire piano. It was a classy touch. Also, the men of the orchestra wear some sort
of jacket that looks like a cross between an artists' smock and a Nehru jacket.
They also did not seem to wear
conventional ties but rather some sort of scarf. It was not a good look!
AMC had a bad experience with seating. AMC ordered his ticket through
Classictic.com, and the computer chose his seat. Well that seat was at the very front of the
first tier of seats on the left side.
AMC was looking directly down to the concertmaster. AMC complained to an usher that his seat was
terrible. The young man promised that
before the concert started he would find AMC a better seat. After about 15 minutes walked back (and
through a row of seated patrons) to enquire when he would hear of a new seat. The
usher assured AMC that he would have a new assignment shortly, and to rest
assured that he was not forgotten. Well
AMC was forgotten. At the interval, AMC
complained to a supervisor about the usher's lack of follow-through. Finally, AMC located a vacant seat 5 places
behind where he was assigned. AMC's seating went from one of the worst in the
house to one of the best.
The house was nearly full with patrons
ranging in age from children to seniors.
That was nice to see.
The second concert was in the concert
hall of the Cite de la Musique, which is located far, relatively speaking, from
the heart of Paris. This hall has only
about a thousand seats. Click here for
more information about it: http://www.medici.tv/#!/cite-de-la-musique-1.
AMC thought the acoustics at the Cite were
also quite supportive of an orchestra, even though it is one the smallish
The concert featured its Music
director Paavo Jarvi and pianist Piotr Anderszewski
highlight of this concert for AMC was the Szymanowski
Symphony No. 4 (for the finale, click here:
This is a flashy in-your-face-type of music
that is a showpiece for every section of the orchestra. The piece is in a concertante form so that
the piano becomes a first among equals part.
this is the kind of music that American orchestras often avoid since it
might tend to keep patrons away. And,
with that kind of approach, patrons will never learn the power and worth of
newer music. It also means over scheduling
of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms in the US.
The Paris Orchestra played the music
superbly. there was not a mistake to be
found. The ensemble was outstanding,
with each section of the orchestra playing as one and as if on fire. In this performance the percussion section was
outstanding. At one point, AMC heard
what sounded to be an organ pedal note.
He looked around the auditorium to find the source, only to see that it
was the bass drum. But the drum was so skillfully
played that it was if an organ was
holding one sustained note. In a less
skilled hand this sustained not would sound like a series of strikes. Also, the tam tam player stood in front of
his instrument, rather than at the side.
He held the mallet behind him. This
may have been because he was called upon to play the triangle also, but it was
different. Mr. Anderszewski played well,
but this auditorium made the sound of the piano a bit more distant than the
orchestra itself, but both the soloist and Mr. Jaarvi seemed to accommodate. Mr. Anderszewski also reciprocated the
audience's love with an encore. This was
one wonderful performance.
The Brahms Serenade No. 1 concluded the
concert. It is a long piece, made up of
five sections, lasting a total of about three-quarters of an hour. Each section sounds like a mini-symphonic
movement with characteristic Brahmsian touches, such as duets between the horns
and oboe, which were played without error and with great precision. Again the horns were absolutely
incredible. The strings were lush, but
not soppy. Everything was played
precisely and Mr. Jaarvi keep the forward momentum of the piece. AMC thoughts this to be a fine
The house was about 90% full. AMC wonders how the orchestra can turn a Euro
in such a small hall with vacancies.
Maybe its government support.
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