Brahmissimo

By Insider – Suzanne Peri-Chapman

I was sitting in the concert hall tonight, thinking “My life is being enriched, right now”. I was attending the first of four concerts by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, called Brahmissimo, a complete Brahms experience. These concerts are exclusive to Wellington, so can I just say now, before I go into any further detail…don’t miss it! Concert dates are 12-15 October, in the Michael Fowler Centre.

If you have the time, the pre-concert talks are well worth attending. By Dr Inge van Rij, an international authority on Brahms, the talk tonight was entitled Monumentalising Music. Having just produced the Opening Ceremony for Rugby World Cup, the idea of the monumental scale fascinated me…the ceremony had to have both a human and a monumental scale, and so did the music. Part of the monumentalising Dr Inge referenced was what has gone before – in the case of Brahms, Beethoven had gone before. Schumann had championed the young Brahms, going so far as to tell his parents that he would be a second Beethoven…no pressure, Johannes.

Two decades later, one J. Brahms released his first symphony, which was on the programme tonight:  Symphony No.1 in C minor Op. 68. Apparently, it was dubbed “Beethoven’s tenth” by certain critics of the time, however I feel this is unfair to Brahms – he was definitely his own man, while not ignoring the extraordinary influence of Beethoven, in fact honouring him in references throughout Brahms’ own music. I then had to wonder – if there had been no Beethoven, what direction might Brahms have gone towards? We’ll never know.

Dr Inge took us through several motifs, both Beethoven and Brahms, and showed us where they were similar. I was interested to learn of the layering of themes and motifs – there could be several at once, one in the violins, one in the cellos and so on. All this information was intended to assist the listening process, when the concert was performed, and it worked. One more quote from Schumann, who appears to have had a lot to say on the state of music in his time…a good composition should be “bound in a spiritual union”; which in short means it has to have cohesion and a narrative, in other words, to make musical sense. Like any good story, a theme introduced at the beginning should be developed along the way, then resolved at the end.

On to the performance, after the talk…in simple parlance, damn good! They started with Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83 featuring our own (via Canada) Diedre Irons on piano. A wonderful concerto in four movements, and quite demanding on the pianist, Ms Irons produced a passionate performance that had my attention riveted on the keyboard. The first two movements were almost mini-concertos in their own right, but I fell in love with the exquisite third movement. A duet emerged between a cello and oboe – absolutely beautiful. The final fourth movement brought it all together, with those glorious finishes that only an orchestra can create.

The second half was the afore-mentioned Symphony No.1 in C minor Op. 68. Again in four movements, this piece, and the wonderful orchestra, took us on another narrative journey, and resolved it all at the end. Both pieces were conducted by Pietari Inkinen, the Music Director of the NZSO. From the programme notes, a reviewer is quoted as saying “it is the restraint that impresses most…Inkinen makes the music sound  as though it’s playing itself”. I’m no music critic, but I would have to say that Pietari Inkinen lead the orchestra without being a show-offy conductor; it was all about the music with him, and that is surely everything a great conductor should be.

The NZSO is also streaming the concerts, so if you can’t get to Wellington you can still tune in via the NZSO website or Radio New Zealand.

This festival of Brahms is part of the Real NZ Festival, so it’s not just for people who know their classical music – Rugby-heads welcome! Seriously though, go along, and enrich your life.

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