…- National Philharmonic Orchestra concert at the National Concert Hall
The new hall is still only functioning in test mode and we are trying to grasp what we are listening to: how much of what we are hearing is the performer, how much the hall. At least, this was the case until the evening of the 24th of February. I believed that only when a truly fine, large scale orchestra were to perform could we say how the hall is. Well, now I can say: it really is unbelievably good.
The National Philharmonic Orchestra gave a concert with their second conductor Kálmán Berkes, who clearly must have experimented in the first weeks what he could extract from the orchestra and the hall: a great deal, or rather, everything. Of course we could say that he had an easy job – if I was going to be second conductor, I'd like to be here too – the work is very very hard, as they say, the aspect of the job involving human and professional conflicts is dealt with by first conductor and music director Zoltán Kocsis. That cannot be denied. But the better an orchestra, the better it can react to not just the gestures of a conductor but to his attitude to music, his human qualities etc. It will show its best form with anyone.
From the very first bars of Ruslan and Ludmilla is was obvious that this was not a second rate production. A momentous beginning, as befit this work, a violin section that sounds glorious but not too aggressive, filling the whole hall but not with sweeping volume but rather with a powerful sonority. This hall was built for just this: for solos by orchestral soloists, even a single flautist, to be clearly heard all over; for a pianissimo to reach everywhere; for a fortissimo not to be squeezed between the walls but to be a real one.
But a price must be paid for all this. Not just for the audience but by any player who imagines that sitting down in this hall means everything they do will be made beautiful. It isn't. If a soloist makes a mistake or even one member in an orchestral section, everyone will hear it. If the violins do not sound clearly and together, this be far more irritating than at the Music Academy. Because here it is not only not beautiful, it is also weaker. You need courage here. You must fill the hall, there must be work for acoustic tuners, orchestras – will they have the opportunity? We must be prepared for the truth that we will not always hear productions that are flattered for being played here.
The new concert hall is like a pretty girl: she can show her shape wearing trousers frayed at the knee and wearing a pullover made from artificial fibres, but she must dress to be truly seen. And it shows no mercy on anyone who does not try to match its demands and only rewards the maximum performance.
Patricia Kopatchinskaja began the chords which begin each of the movements of Stravinsky's violin concerto with a dynamism that explains the composer's explanation: the chords are “passports” to the work. Their performance won over our sympathy for this young Moldavian artist's interpretation. She is particularly interested in the twentieth century repertoire and she played with great self confidence, making nothing of the “relatively tame” difficulties as Stravinsky described them.
The work itself, even though written for large orchestra, rarely makes use of all the players at once. The composer himself described it as having the character of chamber music. This could be sensed throughout the performance. The orchestra was extremely precise. There was a perfect distribution of work between the different instrumental sections, their own duties and their cooperation with the solo violin, the source for which was clearly the conductor. For example, the violinist avoided that particular tone which is desirable for performing the big concertos (Beethoven, Tchaikovsky etc) which Stravinsky so disliked. But this is the essence and even this was hugely enjoyable.
Besides this, the other principal work of the concert was the Dvorák symphony known as “New World.” The orchestra has played it several times with Kocsis, so to some degree the conductor had an easy task. But only superficially. The rhythm, commitment, power and unified violin sonority which is needed in the first movement, for example, has to be extracted from the orchestra somehow, but only if it is present in the musicians. Someone has to hold together the structure that forms the basis for the beautiful cor anglais melody of the second movement, and be present on the conductor's podium during the third and fourth movements as well! Someone was present and the orchestra reflected this with a performance that left nothing to be desired.
During the Slavic Dance, given as an encore, its mood allowed us to reflect in quiet happiness: here is a world class orchestra, in what is certainly a world class hall, and we just have to take the tram to Soroksári Road to reach it.
February 24, 2005 – National Concert Hall
National Philharmonic Orchestra
Soloist: Patricia Kopatchinskaja – violin
Conductor: Kálmán Berkes
GLINKA: Ruslan and Ludmilla – overture
STRAVINSKY: Violin Concerto in D major
DVORÁK: Symphony no. 9 “From the New World “
(Café Momus, 3rd March 2005)