The first ever symphony orchestra concert i remember hearing was during my first year at university. The New Zealand Symphony played in the Civic Theatre in Christchurch under a handsome young conductor. Among the pieces they played was Mozart’s Haffner Symphony and earlier in the concert Ephigenia in Aulis, which i’d never heard before [i’d probably never heard the Haffner either come to that] and which haunted me. I always wanted a recording of it and never found one – tho’ i realise i gave up looking a long time ago. I might be able to find one now.
I loved the atmosphere of that concert and the conductor’s being young and handsome added to the delight of the night and the music. There was a great deal of music while i was a student. Most weeks i went to the lunch-time concerts organised by the university music department and held in the Great Hall – i learned so much music at those. And then there were regular evening performances by the music department’s resident quartet – four, in my memory, 30-something Russian musicians. They played some of the great quartets including a sequence of several of Beethoven’s. Again in my memory these took place in the winter term. It would be cold outside, the Great Hall with its high ceiling was hard to heat and although it was warmer [and sometimes there may have even been an open fire in the side fireplace] i think we sat in our coats. While the general light was weak [and that to me is just fine for such an event] the quartet sat in a golden pool cast by a domestic standard lamp with a red shade; and i loved the whole thing: the music, the people, all the history, and the tradition of this custom of how to present music. These 2 sets of concerts i think grew my enduring love of chamber music.
I had not grown up with recorded music. There was the radio, and my mother and i played the piano. There was no record-player in the house until i bought a stereo system from The Record Room maybe at the end of my second university year. I had begun buying records from Norm at his Record Room upstairs in Cashel Street; but by the time i bought the stereo he had an enlarged shop in Colombo Street. I also bought records through the Record Society. One scanned catalogues and ordered world renowned recordings several months in advance, and then as they became available could have them posted; but i always preferred the treat of collecting them from the EMI Record Shop – a dim, cramped and narrow L-shaped shop that ran between Colombo [classical at this end] and Cashel [popular].
Early evening last Wednesday we went to hear the NZSO in the Town Hall. The programme was
SIBELIUS En Saga
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto
SIBELIUS Symphony No 5
We go to symphony concerts only rarely these days – the big sounds seem too often overblown or excessively romanticised – the more limited scale and subtlety of chamber music is now much more appealing. But occasionally the symphony orchestras offer pieces that still work the magic: Sibelius’ 5th is one. There is gorgeous lyrical stuff but the dark edge, the sometime sombreness and a nordic austerity make this still so listenable, so enjoyable, so thrilling. And like that first symphony concert i was remembering this one also had a handsome young conductor.
Pietari Inkinen is the new Music Director of the NZSO, and he’s not only stunning on the eyes, he’s superb with the baton as well. Maybe the Finnish heritage helps with Sibelius but i suspect his talent is way way beyond that easy explanation. Pietari drew a wonderful light, precise deftness out of the players; i don’t think i’ve ever heard a conductor get an orchestra to manage their transitions between musical sections so finely nor play silence so eloquently.