Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Vienna in Philadelphia

In last night's dream, Yannick Nezet-Seguin was a friend of mine. We went to the Camden Aquarium with other friends who I used to hang out with when I was working on my master's degree in Music Theory in the 1980s. (I'm not sure that the Camden Aquarium was there yet, but that's not important.) Nezet-Seguin would have been about ten years old then, living in Montreal, and there's little chance I would have let him drive my friends and me through Philadelphia and over the Ben Franklin Bridge to Camden's Aquarium. This stuff happens in dreams and fiction, though, and it's fun to think about. We had a great time at the Aquarium, us four.
Yannick Nezet Seguin - Orquesta Filarmónica de Rotterdam, 
photo by Quincena Musical
The truth is, he's been on my mind a lot since he took over as Music Director of my beloved Philadelphia Orchestra in 2012. Riccardo Muti was the director when I was in school then, and he was a hero, too. (I was behind him in line at the Barnes & Noble once and noticed his stack of CDs before I noticed who he was.)
In-between, there were other directors, no less fantastic, I'm sure, but they had the misfortune to populate that post when I had neither the time or the money to visit the orchestra much. Then came Yannick, and he breathed energy and vitality into the orchestra without sacrificing artistry. He's charismatic on the podium and well-known on social media.

I discovered that the orchestra has a Cyber Monday sale (the Monday after American Thanksgiving) where fans can buy tickets at a good price. I bought three sets of tickets for the three Vienna concerts in January 2016 and invited friends to attend. I was thrilled to revisit these Viennese masters I had been studying and writing about since my two trips to Vienna this summer. (Read my short blog post about Vienna's surprises here.) We heard Strauss, Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Bruckner, Schumann, Brahms, at these concerts, plus a more recent composer I'd never heard of: HK Gruber.

This photo is from a 2009 article by Geoffrey Norris in The Telegraph. Read it here:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/journalists/geoffrey-norris/4592446/HK-Gruber-a-composer-who

HK Gruber was born in Vienna, was educated at the music academy there, and lives there now. In the program notes for this concert (1/16/16), Paul Griffiths describes Gruber as an "early postmodern transgressive." Rather than trying to translate that label, I'll describe him as a guy who has a lot of fun with his music and writes some interesting, energetic, and compelling stuff. You can meet him in this video:

Also from Griffiths's program notes, we learn that Gruber's first big-time composition was named Frankenstein!!, and included a part for Gruber himself as narrator in a scary style. That was 1978.

He composed the piece we heard in 1981 (Charivari) when he was obsessed with Johann Strauss Jr.'s "Perpetuum mobile" polka. Here's Herbert von Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic performing that Strauss piece:

Gruber's piece is a deconstruction of the Strauss polka, and the listener can hear some of the original piece in the newer one. The name Charivari is taken from the title of a French satirical journal from the 1800s and means to bang on pots and generally make noise to annoy people (such as newlyweds). The audience at our concert demanded an encore, so Yannick and his crew performed the Strauss "Perpetuum mobile" polka. We got to hear where the newer piece came from. The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra made this recording in 2007:

I really like the idea of programming a selection of music from the same place in a concert or concerts like this. Next year, Yannick Nezet-Seguin plans to take us to PARIS!