Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Ravel on You Tube

I've been watching, or listening to, a number of You Tube videos of classical music performances over the last couple of weeks. Sometimes I've just listened while I'm doing something else on the computer; other times I've sat and watched the video, distracted from doing anything else altogether. 

I hadn't realised just how much music was available for one thing, though I'd known that just about any piece of music you wanted to hear, or see performed, can be found on You Tube these days. Which is extraordinary in itself. 

Tonight I've just watched a performance of Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand. It was played by Hélène Tysman with the Orchestra of the University of Music Franz Liszt Weimar under Professor Nicolás Pasquet. 

Tysman gives a stunning performance, all the more so because concertos for the left hand are notoriously difficult, requiring the pianist to balance their body in a way that's quite different to normal, keeping an intense focus on just one hand, the very hand that in many pianists is slightly weaker than the other. The pianist is required to play, in this concerto anyway, right up to the upper register of the keyboard, which means leaning far to the right, maintaining the balance, and working across the body at the same time. It’s an achievement and a half to do it.

And there are some extremely difficult things to do in this piece: rapid octave passages, great thundering bass notes hit from a distance, intricate fast moving sections that have to be entirely encompassed under one hand. It's not a piece I'll be tackling any time soon...

I always wonder what a pianist practicing such a piece does with the right hand. There are no concertos purely for the right hand, so they can’t learn two different concertos at once, and obviously a professional pianist can’t let the right hand languish for weeks while the left hand does all the work. I’d be interested to know.

There’s an interesting comment part the way down the page relating to the video: Can people not look like they're bored during the entire performance! This is honestly an impeccable performance. I would be in awe if I got to play in an orchestra next to her. [I've corrected several errors in this comment for readability.]

The person commenting isn’t talking about the audience, but about the orchestral musicians. I personally didn’t think they look bored, although there seemed to be some odd grins and facial expressions at times, as though one or two were giving a nod to musicians in other parts of the orchestra. This isn’t entirely professional, but I guess these are students, so they might be given some leeway.

The young men’s dress sense could have been smartened up, however: several of them have their collars undone and their ties hanging loose. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, but I’m sure once they join a full-time orchestra such things won’t be allowed.

However, one more word on the boredom factor. I remember going to see New Zealand’s own Symphony Orchestra last year, and was quite surprised, as we waited for the concert to start, to see the violinists, who were the ones I could see most clearly, sitting there with faces that could have expressed anything from ‘not this piece again’ to ‘what an unpleasant-looking audience; I wonder if they have a musical bone between them.’

I don’t say that that’s what they were thinking, but they seemed very unfriendly, somehow. And at the end of the concert this same expression came over them, in spite of tumultuous applause. Curious.

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