Posts Tagged ‘Jordi Savall’

Reviews – Tiger Lillies, New Players Theatre, and Jordi Savall, Wigmore Hall (London)

May 10, 2009

This week I went to two concerts that couldn’t have been more different from each other: the Tiger Lillies, in London for a nearly month-long run at the New Players Theatre, and Jordi Savall, whom I had the good fortune to note (thanks to his online schedule) would be (and was) at Wigmore Hall on Friday, May 8th. Savall is probably the artist in the world whom I hold in highest esteem; the Tiger Lillies were a group I’d heard of from many people and decided to sample (in a state of general ignorance) given their good reputation and the attraction of ten quid tickets.

Jordi Savall’s program at Wigmore Hall was split in two sections: the first to me seemed to be virtuoso viol music (included music adapted for the viol); the second was music of the British Isles, including several pieces that required retuning the instrument. The opening piece, Karl Friedrich Abel’s “Prelude,” had the bow dancing over the strings from one chord shift to another in a way that left my mouth hanging open. It was just so rich and complex, and the one instrument just filled the hall with its sound. It was inexpressably gorgeous, and followed by Bach’s “Allemande in D minor” I was transported by the beauty of the music. I often think that when a performer constructs a program, one of the considerations he takes into play is which works will give him a chance to stretch himself or show off his technique. These two pieces were the utter fireworks of the evening, effectively forcing the audience to submit to the power of Savall’s playing and just exist, wordlessly, in awe and amazement while the music washed over us.

The next several pieces were primarily, to my ear, the work of Marais and St. Colombe (pere et fils), as the program was not followed (Savall announced that there would be some Fantasies by Marais played when I was expecting some Prelude in D minor by le Sieru de Machy), though “Les Pleurs” was played. In comparison to the music of Bach and Abel, I found the French viol music so much more thoughtful and nuanced. It’s just a very personal style of music, exactly the kind of thing I would expect someone to play for their own pleasure with no one else listening. The German composers seemed rather mechanical and mathematical by comparison; perfect in their own way, but more cerebral rather than emotional. I was absorbed in the experience of the incredible French music, and my friend was also struck dumb by the gorgeous, heart-wrenching music. It’s crazy to think that this music was almost forgotten in modern times; I find it some of the best ever written.

The second half was four pieces from Tobias Hume’s “Musicall Humours,” followed by what was described as “Lessons for the lyra-viol,” three pieces by Alfonso Ferrabosco (“Coranto”), Thomas Ford (“Why Not Here”), and John Playford (“La Cloche”), and then “4 Pieces in the Bag-Pipes Tuning” (c. 1660). My favorite of these was “La Cloche,” which had Savall playing as if he were two people split, one sawing away (albeit gracefully) on his bass viol, the other answering, beautifully, on another instrument, in this case the plucked viol. The title of the piece is “The Bell,” and it very much had that ringing sound to it, since the strings had been altered so that more of them were able to play open and thus bell out their sound to the hall (my apologies for not being able to write down the tuning). It was really a master composition for the viol, since it took such advantage of the fact that it, with its six (or seven) strings, is already such a resonant instrument, ready to echo itself to the hall.

The bag pipe pieces were set up so that one string became a drone song, wth the fourth and fifth strings switched. I found it amazing that Savall was able to keep up with the change in the notations for his instrument during this set, as the location of any given note seemed to have moved around quite a bit, and though I think he may have dropped one or two notes, overall I was amazed that he was able, during the course of about an hour, change the tuning of his viol about three times and not lose his place. He was right that the bag pipe songs were quite simple, clearly following old folk tunes (from the bagpipes of Lancashire – way back in the past!), but still, they were lush and lovely.

With our enthusiastic applause, Savall returned for not one but two encores, the first a Musette from Marais’s third book of music for viol – sophisticated and short and gorgeous. And he came back yet again, the final time for variations and improvs on “an ancient Breton tune,” which was so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. My God, I’m a sap. It’s a pity I’m not a rich sap or I’d be off to Fontfroide – Savall will be performing there four times at the end of the month. Alas! Perhaps I will be so lucky as to see him one more time this year, perhaps in Edinburgh – he won’t be back in London. But it was lovely.

Thursday was such a switch in gears from this show it’s hard to describe! The Tiger Lillies are usually described as “dark cabaret,” and that seems fair enough. They reminded me a lot of Seattle’s Circus Contraption – probably something that would happen any time you got on stage wearing clown makeup and carrying an accordion – but they also had rather a lot of The Asylum Street Spankers, with their pared-down musical sense that owes so much to following the lyrics of the songs. The set they performed in the comfortable confines of the New Players’ Theatre was from “Shockheaded Peter,” apparently an adaptation of a German’s cautionary children’s tale done with puppets and this band at some point in the past. I found it all rather like a performance of the Ghastlycrumb Tinies: every song was a tale of some child who met a horrible fate. In the meantime, our three piece ensemble (falsetto clown vocals with accordion/piano, bass with theremin, and percussion, sometimes involving pans and/or stuffed bunnies and/or spitting on the audience) walked us through one wild tale after another, with great musicality that focused tightly on the lyrics. I was quite absorbed in the songs and found it all very fun – highly recommended for those with a dark sense of humor.

(The Tiger Lillies continue their run in London through May 23rd; Jordi Savall has come and gone, but you might be able to console yourself at the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music, possibly by watching Phantasm. I know I’ll be there.)

Review – Jordi Savall and Rolf Lislevand – BBC Proms, Cadogan Hall

August 22, 2008

On Monday, I did the unthinkable : I skived out of work to go see a concert over my lunch hour. Now, in the States, I wouldn’t have considered this too unusual, as in a downtown location I could have easily walked to a concert in a plaza or something (a treat I frequently indulged in back in my days temping at a law office in Seattle), but in London, this required a half hour tube journey to make it to my destination. With time getting to the tube and then to the hall, suddenly my lunch “hour” was two and a half hours long … but, to see Jordi Savall, I was more than willing to push the limits of what was an acceptable time to be away for lunch.

To some degree, to appreciate why I considered it worthwhile to upend my entire day (and race, panting, up several flights of stairs), you have to understand how I feel about Jordi Savall’s musicianship. He is … an artist. He is perfection. He occupies the throne of exaltation previously reserved for the likes of David Bowie, Siouxsie Sioux, and Perry Farrell (and now occupied by Carlos Acosta and Arianna Lallone and Bill Viola, gods who walk the earth alongside us mere mortals).

I spend many of my days at work listening to Otto’s Baroque Music on 1 FM (the irritating commercials are almost made up for by the great music), and I can always tell when Jordi is playing. Maybe it’s something about how he records his music; frequently, the sound quality is so intimate I can hear the light movements as the bow starts to move across the strings, and often even the breathing of the man who holds that bow. It is not like being in the same room as the player; it’s like sitting directly in front of him, like being able to feel the vibrations in the fabric of your clothing. It’s amazing. (It’s also nicely described here if you want to hear someone else rhapsodize about him – it’s not just me.)

I realized one day, sitting here at my computer, that now that I live in Europe, I can get that feeling much more directly by actually going to see him play. I don’t know rich classical musicians; sitting around cloistered away is not how most of them live – they play and they teach. So, as I mentioned in July, I looked and found his touring calendar online, and, much to my delight, discovered he was going to be in London … performing a “BBC Proms” lunchtime concert (whatever it is that a Prom is, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with wearing long dresses and tuxedos and dancing). I marked it on my schedule, promised my boss I’d make up the lost time … and waited for August 18th to finally roll around.

The concert itself was in Cadogan Hall (pronounced Ka-dug’gin, like “a jug in”), delightfully situated a quick sprint to the right of the exit of Sloane Square tube station. And it’s gorgeous inside, a nice rake so the seats had a good view of the stage, and the upper balcony gorgeously curved around the lower floor – I would recommend it for any concert (of the sort I enjoy, at any rate).

The performance itself was the music I’ve learned to love over the last 15 years, primarily Marais and Ortiz, with Savall on his lovely, English-made viol, and Lislevand alternately on guitar and archlute. A BBC presenter introduced it while I was finding my seat, and talked about each bit of music and its composer – a nice touch, I thought, since I so frequently know nothing more than what I read about them in the program notes (when they bother to make them!). Jordi was also interviewed, which I found very charming (and probably shouldn’t have surprised me, this being a radio show, which I might not have realized – I thought it was just a concert series) – I felt like he was trying to describe the infinite when he was talking about music, and that words were just about not good enough to put the content of his head and heart out there to the world. In addition to the ever popular Preludes and Musettes from Marais’ third book and the Hume pieces I’d heard last winter at St. John’s Smith Square, I also got to here “La Sautillante,” which was new for me, and I was pleased as if I’d found a rare B-side in a record shop.

All in all, the concert wrapped up very nicely within an hour, and I was able to rush back to work and get on with my day … knowing, full well, that when I go back to think about what I did that day, the only thing that I will remember in the future – possibly the only thing I will remember about this entire week – is the gorgeous hour I spent in Cadogan hall listening to the best viola da gamba player in the world doing what he is most brilliant at; making ancient music come to exquisite life.

Here’s the program, which, with luck, might be available to download on the BBC website:

* Ortiz: Passamezzo antico; Folia; Ruggiero Romanesca; Passamezzo moderno (Savall and Lislevand)
* Hume: “A Souldiers March”; “Harke, harke”; “A Souldiers Resolution” (Savall)
* Marais: Pièces de viole, 3è livre – Prélude; Muzettes I/II; La sautillante (Savall and Lislevand, I think)
* Sanz: Jácaras; Canarios (Lislevand)
* Marais Couplets des Folies d’espagne (Savall and Lislevand)

Review – 2008 York Early Music Festival, first weekend – Jordi Savall, Emma Kirkby, and Handel’s “Israel in Egypt”

July 7, 2008

This weekend I took a break from the many delights London has to offer and headed up to York for the first weekend of the York Early Music Festival. I had first heard about it when doing a search for Jordi Savall, when I ran across his touring calendar and … look, there he was going to be in York, which is quite a bit easier for me to get to than, oh, Oslo. And since I hadn’t really been getting my early music fix in London, I thought, why not just do a whole weekend? This became an even more exciting possibility when I realized the program Jordi was going to be performing was one I desperately wanted to hear (music of Marais! the “apotheosis of the viol,” indeed!) and that Emma Kirkby was going to be performing the next day. (She is one of two singers I actively follow, the other being Ellen Hargis.) It was kismet! I booked the time off work and booked train tickets at the earliest possible moment.

What I did NOT do was book tickets for the Jordi Savall concert, which sold out some two months before I made it to York. (I was trying to split up the costs of the trip, but apparently I made the wrong decision about what to get “before” and what to get “after.”) I was on the waitlist, but on the very day of the concert, as I was heading north, I had not been called and there had only been one pair of tickets returned! The Kirby ones and tickets for Handel’s “Israel in Egypt” on Saturday had already been purchased (as had my train tickets), so with a worried heart I headed north, figuring … well, it was still going to be a good trip, and there was always the ghost walk if it completely fell through …

As it turned out, there was only one person ahead of me at the York Minster and I had no problems getting two tickets. In fact, as it was mostly general admission, I found my very early self sitting in the third row – in the lovely building that is the Chapter House of the York Minster, all Gothic carvings and stained glass and a lovely arched dome overhead to just make the atmosphere perfect. I can’t really say that atmosphere extended to the acoustics, however, as they seemed, even in the third row, to be muddy at times, but it often seems that is the case with early music – the instruments just aren’t as piercing as later ones, and a chattering harpsichord can easily drown out the whispers of an archlute.

The program: well, it was everything I had hoped for and the first half of the program (which started with the Marais, “Suite d’un Gout Etranger”) pretty much justified the entire trip. Jordi Savall is the master of the viol, and to hear him playing pieces that Marais, the master composer of the viol, created to “stretch the skill of those who do not like easy pieces” was heaven. At one point (I think the “Allemande La Superbe”), I heard such unusual combinations of notes and techniques that it was like falling out of my own consciousness and into another person’s body. Were these things possible? Can you really play all SEVEN strings at the same time, in harmony with a bow? I was floored. I was in the room with the master. Jordi Savall, Arianna Lallone, Carlos Acosta – there are very few artists who have left me with the gap-jawed feeling I get when I feel I am witnessing genius.

Frankly, after this opening left me weak-kneed and gasping for air, I felt there was little hope of equalling it during the rest of the show. That said, Rolf Lislevand, who provided a lovely accompaniment to Jordi during most of the show, got his chance to rock out solo and took the bit in his teeth and ran. His Spanish guitar suites practically set his strings on fire – I suddenly felt like I was watching some super band at Glastonbury getting an ocean of people up and jumping. Jason and I walked out of the hallway fanning ourselves. Early music: who could ever think it would be so hot! (The audience, of course, expressed its state of rapture by not even breathing, as near as I could tell, during the performance.)

The rest of the evening was fine but I’ll move on to discussing the next evening’s performance: Emma Kirkby and Peter Harvey with a few members of the London Baroque performing songs of the Jewish exodus (as written by 17th century German composers, i.e. Heinrich Schutz and friends). This performance was in the Salvation Army Hall of York, on Gillygate street; as we walked in, I was finding myself remembering the fiery Major Barbara of Shaw’s play and thinking of her preaching away inside of this very building. That said, it was QUITE warm in the building and I think it was affecting those of us in the balcony seats rather negatively – there was much more shifting and coughing, as well as plenty of fanning.

The opening of the concert was four songs on exactly the same text – Psalm 137, “An den Wassern zu Babel” (“By the waters of Babylon/ there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion./On the willows there we hung up our lyres …”). Reading the accompanying translation, I was actually quite confused and didn’t realize we were going back onto the same text again and again – it was like Groundhog Day. Once I realized what was going on, I was able to settle down into the pleasure of hearing them side by side, but I utterly lost the benefit of the first one altogether. The final version, by Franz Tunder (whom I’d never heard of before), was completely bizarre – like hearing a normal song played backwards. I’m not sure what was really going on in Germany at that time – the program notes describes a world of rich musical interaction and all of the composers played knew each other – but Tunder seemed to have been in a world of his own. Perhaps he was playing little jokes in his music, such as by hiding mathematical formulas in it or something of the sort.

I have to admit that I don’t really care for German music in general – like Flemish paintings, it just leaves me dry. That said, I found this music, about crying for a fallen country, oddly resonated with me on my country’s Independence Day – it seemed to me to reflect my feelings about a broken state with no hope for the future, a country that had once been great – a source of inspiration, a “beacon of hope” – and now was just a wreck of its former self. A song about Jerusalem being like a woman who’d been widowed and left alone and friendless (by Buxtehude) was particularly sad. Still, my overall feeling was it’s too damned hot in here and even though I enjoyed listening to both singers, I was just desperate to get out of the building and couldn’t realistically comtemplate going to see the lute quartert (Chordophony) that was happening at 10 PM – I needed to reduce my core temperature stat.

My final night in York was spent at the Minster (again!), this time in the main hall, watching the Yorkshire Bach Choir and Yorkshire Baroque Soloists performing Handel’s “Israel in Egypt” – the original, 1739 version that debuted in London (at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, I think). The first section was, like Buxtehude’s “Klagelied” (of the night before), a piece originally written for someone’s funeral – in this case for his patroness, er, Queen Caroline, I think (I’ve stuffed my program notes into a bag somewhere so I can’t say definitively, but the web is out there if you want to figure it out for yourself). The second section was about the plagues that decended on Egypt when Moses was trying to convince the Pharoah to “set my people free!” This music had lots of great illustrative effects for things like falling balls of fire and, er, biting lice and flies (I swear you have to have a good English accent to sing about lice and flies for five minutes with a straight face – an American just wouldn’t have the gravitas to pull it off).

The accompaniment seemed much more evolved than the German music of the night before – to me, music of the late 1600s can sound kind of tweedly and formless, like it doesn’t have a through line but just makes random harmonies. (The program for the German music mentioned its “expert counterpoint,” but I’m afraid I’m too uneducated to pick it out myself.) The cathedral made the organ sound amazingly resonant, like a pudding with some surprise tasty crunchy bits (as if from toffee or coconut) and the orchestra really blended with the organ well. And it was easy to hear the relationship of this music to “The Messiah.” That said …

I had been rained on SO HARD earlier in the day that it seemed like the life had just been washed out of me. Classical music is something I really have to be in peak form to appreciate – well slept and preferably in a fairly good mood. I’d been having an excellent time and mostly getting enough rest (Bowman’s Guest House was delightfully quiet), but walking back to the hotel soaking wet had worn me out and a nap, tea, and dinner hadn’t restored me. I wasn’t spacing out as the music plays, which happens to me sometimes, but I wasn’t really there – I wasn’t connecting to what was happening, probably in part because I didn’t have a person that I could focus on (and I’m not really that keen on hearing biblical texts sung). It’s possible that I just generally am not a good person for choral work and should stick to smaller ensemble stuff. So … at intermission we headed out the door and off to someplace warm (the complete opposite of the night before!) to sit and have a pint or two and play some cards. I’m sorry, Yorkshire Baroque Soloists and Yorkshire Bach Choir, you were all doing fine, but I was not audience enough for you. I hope we shall meet again when I haven’t spent a very recent hour walking around in wet clothing and losing all of my passion for life.

Overall, the weekend was just great – I loved York in both its wet and dry modes and the music I went up there especially to see was very enjoyable. I liked the the programmatic theme for the festival (“Exiled: Music in a Strange Land”), also. With luck I’ll be back next year – or maybe even for their festival in December!

Pre-show anticipation – Matthew Bourne’s “Portrait of Dorian Gray” – the excitement is building! – and discount tickets for Peony Pavillion

June 2, 2008

I actually broke down and bought my tickets for Portrait of Dorian Gray today. I’m not going to be able to make it Edinburgh to see it as part of the Fringe (that weekend was already booked), but the September London presentation at Sadler’s Wells is a must. I will now be seeing it on Wednesday, September 3rd, and I’m excited! It’s also now the theatrical event that’s booked furthest ahead on my calendar. Tickets for most of the main floor were already sold, which I think is pretty impressive.

Oddly, this all came about because I was rebooking my tickets for The Peony Pavillion, since a fabulous deal came my way – £15 stalls seats for any show, if you use the promotion code pcdchineseopera . For all of the people who’ve come to this blog looking for info on authentic Chinese cultural presentations, I’d like to encourage you to see this show – it should be top of the line and it’s not the thing I’ve ever had the opportunity to see. Go go go (both of you)!

I also booked tickets for the Sara Baras flamenco show in mid-July (also at Sadlers Wells), and I’m kind of wondering about seeing the English National Ballet’s show at the Royal Festival Hall in early July. It’s got choreography by three people I’ve never heard of before, but it’s also butting right up against my departure date for the York Early Music festival, so I might be too pressed to catch it. Sadly, I’ve never been particularly electrified by any performance I’ve seen by ENB, so this is also making me think I shouldn’t go … but maybe this time things would be … different.

Closer in, I’ve got a pile of tickets accumulating in anticipation of my uncle’s arrival next week – the Marguerite the Musical set, a quartet of Revenger’s Tragedy at a delicious £10 a pop, a trio for Romersholm at the Almeida (I never see discount tickets there – makes me think they must do a better job at picking the right shows for the right length of time, or maybe they’ve done a good job of cultivating a steady audience) … now all I need is to have those silly Powder Her Face tickets jump in my hand for the Sunday June 15th performance, and somehow get a few for the Edith Bagnold’s Chalk Garden at the Donmar on Wednesday June 11th – but it looks sadly like they are sold out and you can forget my doing standing room for anything these days. Perhaps Afterlife at the National will prove an acceptable substitute, but with my luck it won’t even be on that day.

In a final note, I am still beating myself up for not ordering my Jordi Savall tickets for the York Early Music Festival early enough, and am praying to the gods of returned tickets to show me some mercy on this – he’s the whole reason I’m going!