Full to the Rimsky

April 1, 2011

Planted in the familiar, inviting environment of my lounge, it’s easy to forget how great live music can be. Seated in the sweet spot, listening to your favourite records, you’re in complete control, more or less. (Okay, those screaming cicadas occasionally spoil a listening session, as does the wailing diva next door practicing her karaoke moves).
Live music is a lotto, because you’re relying on the guy who controls the sound mix getting it right.
That’s why it’s great to re-experience the world of “the classics” every now and again. Last night, myself and the good wife attended the first of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra’s Great Classics series at the Town Hall, and it really was something.
Only my technical deficiencies in describing music outside of terminologies like “awesome riff” or “scintillating harmonics” prevents me from describing exactly what that something was.
Like most people, I was exposed to many of the, well, ‘great classics’ while growing up, and listened intently to my big brother’s massive box sets of classical composers. But it was never “my” music – it was the crazed electrics of Hendrix, Cream, the Who and others that rocked my world.
To me, there’s something stuffy and deeply, suspiciously conservative about much classical music, and that applies to last night’s offerings as much as any. At the same time, there’s nothing in the world that compares to experiencing a top orchestra performing this music.
After you get used to the fact that the lights are still on and the fact that if you happen to sneeze, the whole orchestra could turn on you and identify you as THAT GUY who couldn’t hold his sneeze… once you settle down, you start to realise just what a wondrous thing it is to hear instrumentalists, en mass, each with their own prescribed part to play, working together as one, to perform this thing.
Once you start to gel with the combined graft (not to mention craft) involved, the listener becomes an active participant, willing this super sonic engine on to victory. That’s when you start to get into the music, beneath and within the wheels of the machinery, the individual instruments sawing away, tootling, parping.
It’s easy to spot archaism in music written before we were born, but then you start to think: how the heck did they come up with such audacious musical turns and phrases, and incorporate solo turns that involve much turning on the head of a pin.
The “gig” started with Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor, featuring David Geringas, a world famous cellist who has been strutting his stuff in front of orchestras for around 40 years. This 65 year old is an extraordinary player.
Sure, as a rock fan, I wanted his solos to get a mix job – I would have liked to hear his virtuosic flurries soar in volume. Instead, I had to listen, intently, but that was worthwhile, because the most astonishing things he did with his instrument involved tiny gestures, often a very low volumes.
Geringas was such a hit with the audience that he got an encore. He came back on and played an unannounced elegy for Christchurch, an extraordinary, moving solo piece by Peteris Vasks (Gramata Cellam). At one point, he accompanied his cello with his own haunting falsetto, and there wasn’t a hair on my body that didn’t stand up to salute.
After the intermission, it was time for the very popular Rimsky-Korsakov suite, Scheherazade. While this is definitely not my favourite style, it’s certainly a piece that’s geared towards thrilling an audience with its frequent climaxes. One of the highlights for me was watching the lineup of percussionists, and how controlled they were: how someone could sit through a performance to play their triangle just once or twice is beyond me. The woman with the fluffy mallet and the big bass drum must have desperately wanted to bash that thing, but of course, had to wait for her few moments of glory.
On this evidence, the APO are doing some sterling work. Although I love my stereo, all I can say after this experience is: I’ll definitely be back for some more of what looks to be an excellent 2011 programme.


Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

1 Comment

  1. Fully agreed Gary – and I’m much the same – don’t get out to classical concerts much, but this one blew my mind. So glad you got his solo on here – how was the vocal line? And how was the silence at the end of it – I think there were quite a number of audience members around me who were deeply moved by that – you could have heard a pin drop 🙂

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