São Paulo SO; Marin Alsop, NCH Dublin 26/10/13

Last Saturday I traveled to Dublin for my first concert of my live music year, which runs from September to June.

I booked a hotel close by, the O’ Callaghan Hotel. Alas, the taxi I hopped into at the train station brought me to the wrong one! Apparently there are three O’Callaghan hotels in the city centre. So, following a second taxi journey, it cost me an extra €15 from hotel A to hotel B.

When I got to the NCH* I noticed there seemed to be a younger crowd than normal. The usual concert-going people are of an older generation; don’t get me wrong there were still quite a few, but less. Even more to my surprise, I didn’t spot anyone falling asleep during the concert – which happens a lot!

Anyway here is my review of the concert.

Programme:

Clarice AssadTerra Brasilis Fantasia sobre o Hino Nacional Brasileiro
Leonard BernsteinSymphonic Dances from ‘West Side Story’
Gustav MahlerSymphony No. 1 in D major

The American and now Irish** conductor Marin Alsop was, somewhat unusually, the second woman to take charge of a symphony orchestra at the NCH this weekend. Galway native Sinead Hayes made her debut with the NSO with a programme of Mozart on Friday evening.

Marin Alsop became the principal conductor of the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra in 2012.  It is thought of by music critics as an up-and-coming orchestra of world class standard.

The music of the young Brazilian composer Clarice Assad started the concert with a new work called Terra Brasilis Fantasia sobre o Hino Nacional Brasileiro. A “Fantasia on the Brazilian National Anthem”. In roughly 7 minutes it tells the history of Brazil, with its discovery by Portuguese explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral, to the encounter between the indigenous population and the Portuguese caravels. The introduction and establishment of the African population, arrival of the Portuguese Court in Brazil, symbolized by the playful re-orchestration of themes from the national anthem. The anthem was alluded to for most of the music along with lots of percussion and reading the programme notes, Arabic and Japanese scales, Chinese percussion, and Jewish Hava Naguila accompanied by a tarantella! The Brazilian anthem is played in a blaze of glory in full at the end.

I found this music very interesting it expressed the history of the country very well through suggestion and the clever use of musical quotations.  Sometimes I find new music frightens the concert-goers at the NCH, the audience gets bored and starts coughing, but it was all quiet throughout and it got a very good reception from the audience.

You can watch this music’s first performance below.

The music continued with Bernstein’s  Symphonic Dances from ‘West Side Story’. Alsop was mentored by Bernstein in Boston and New York, a period she says was the main influence on her musical career.  The music  starts with finger clicking from the orchestra and comes back again later also with shouts of “Mambo”!  It takes nine episodes from the 1957 musical of the same name, with snippets of the songs ‘Somwhere’, ‘Cool’ and other orchestral parts of the musical. Because of Marin Alsop’s deep knowledge of Bernstein’s music I felt I was listening to this like I had never heard it before. The music for the strings was lush and warm at times (Somewhere, Finale) and punchy and rhythmical (Mambo). The brass and woodwind sections sounded wonderful too, lovely solos from the trumpet, horn***, clarinet and oboe.

Alsop remained cool during the frantic music of the Rumble and Mambo which I have seen other conductors going a little crazy to! It ended gently with a quiet finale. I knew this was going to be a concert to remember after hearing this wonderful music preformed by this fantastic orchestra to end the first half.  So blown away were the audience that they nearly forgot there was a second half and five curtain calls were necessary!

This is the third time I’ve seen Mahler’s First symphony. The first movement  is all about the season of spring, with delicate playing of the clarinet mimicking a cuckoo and surprising faster tempo changes, which I’m not used to hearing, but it worked out for the better.

The second movement was described in the programme as a Scherzo but is really a Ländler a precursor to the Waltz. It was taken at a lovely flowing pace by Alsop with a wonderful sound coming from the brass section which sometimes can get a little lost in the bright acoustics of the concert hall. I could nearly imagine myself in the Austrian Alps listening to this music.

The third movement is a funeral march, taken at a gentle walking pace, for the most part. It starts with a version of the French nursery rhythm Frère Jacques on a solo double bass which apparently is a difficult instrument to play a solo on.  The orchestra in the central section imitating a town brass and wind band pretty well. This music is all about childhood memories for Mahler both because some of his siblings died when he was a child and also as he heard the town band pass by his house every day. It ends very quietly… then the surprise.

Normal concert etiquette is that when listening to a symphony, don’t clap until all four movements are finished. Well that didn’t happen, for the first two movements some people clapped, most didn’t (me included) and it annoyed Ms. Alsop a little. So the third led straight into the fourth movement, with its big crash from the bass drum some people were visibly shocked! The movement is dramatic for most of it and sounding a bit like Tchaikovsky in others. But the coda was the best part of the symphony for me, loud brash and brassy! Mahler is really good at doing big endings. Alsop got the best out of her Brazilian band with a loud swift fast ending and it delighted the audience in NCH.

She came back for two encores.  She stated, that since the orchestra are from Brazil, why not some Brazilian music?  Music by Edu Lopo, his Pé de Vento was a mixture of Latin American sounds with a kinda jazzy and almost improvised solos for bassoons, clarinet and trombone. It was great, I would love to have a recording of it, and it got a great reception from us all. Then another encore, this time Dmitri Shostakovich the finale from his ballet The Bolt.

This was the best concert I’ve been to in at least 2 years.  I really hope I get to see this orchestra and conductor again in years to come. One I’ll never forget!

* I walked…
** She told us at the end of the concert that her maternal grandfather was born here and she became an irish citizen last week, to which we gave a big cheer!
***  french horn is technically a woodwind instrument.

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