Friday, September 4, 2009

The magic of the orchestra

Last night we went to a concert at the Cambodia Japan Cooperation Centre in the grounds of the Royal University of Phnom Penh. The bow tied orchestra, made up of cellos, violas and violins and directed by flamboyant critically acclaimed Icelandic long fringed conductor, Gudni A Emilsson played pieces by Mozart, Mendelssohn, Telemann and Jaan Raats.
The Tubingen Chamber Orchestra was established in 1957 specifically to create a cultural link through music with foreign universities and youth organisations all over the world. It has so far managed to make 63 tours to 90 countries in five continents including invitations to play at the Olympic Games in Mexico, the United States of America's Bicentenary and official visits of the President of the Federal Republic of Germany to Africa, Asia and America. A week long workshop gives Khmer musicians the experience of both orchestral and ensemble arrangements as much a confidence building as an academic exercise meant to motivate and nurture the 'joy of music making' and share the intimate magic of chamber music.
First up was Mozart, 'Divertimento F-major KV 138', familiar and comfortable but still a complex mix of tempo and sentiment.
Mendelssohn's 'Concerto for violin and orchestra in D-minor' featured German soloist, Julia Galic who like Mendelssohn began her public music career while barely a teenager. An accomplished violinist Galic's bow dashes over the belly of the violin, quick, light and pungent then the piece changes. Space is stretched with a more airy transparency and time slows. Unlike many composers of his time, Mendelssohn rewards soloists with attention, introducing them at the beginning of his work and allowing them to led and to carry the music. Galic took her spot with relish, even her neck stretches between rifts could have just as well been the flourishes of a musician hypnotised by the music she created. The piece circles around and finishes, both mood and tempo lifted.
The contemporary Jaan Raats, an Estonian film score composer was next with the hugely popular (it has been played more than 2000 times worldwide by famous chamber orchestras and is available on several CDs) 'Concerto for chamber orchestra op.16'. Why are orchestral pieces given such unremarkable staid names?
The final work by Georg Teleman included some of the young Khmer musicians who had taken part in the workshop conducted as part of the Tubingen Chamber orchestra's visit. Teleman's composition included two transverse flutes, a young Khmer musician and her teacher. Their clear single notes tumbled over each other like autumn leaves providing the animation to a background of the multiple chords of the accompanying strings. Also in the orchestra were 2 Cambodian violinists and a viola who had taken part in the workshop.
Composers, to me, are story tellers, correographers- skillfully arranging notes and manipulating emotions, creating pictures, balancing and tipping symmetries. As a dancer I automatically see fluidity and physical movement. Often the composition begins to form a mental fairytale- Hansel and Gretel picking their way along a trail of bread crumbs in the ominous shadows of the Ilsenstein Forest- a temper tantrum of Tinkerbell proportions, little arms and legs, stars and fairydust flying everywhere- Mrs Tingy Winkle's warm washing strung kitchen, hot iron flying over starched handkerchiefs, her nose twitching at the singey smell of ironed soap suds- a medley of childhood memories.
The large, standing room only, audience's appreciation at the end of the final movement produced an enthusiastically welcomed encore. A recognisable German folk song (I can't remember the name of) was received with gusto.
We left the auditorium, which could have been almost anywhere in the world, emerged onto a wet almost deserted Russian Boulevard and headed to Metro for lemon Margaritas (me) and Espresso Martinis (him).

Incidently my favourite orchestral instrument is the haunting sound of the oboe. What's yours?

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