Friday, March 12, 2010

Concert for a Culture of Peace

I’ve known about this event for some months now and there was no way that I was going to miss this. And it seemed that a lot of people felt the same way I did since a good mix of young and old people, expatriates and locals flocked to the CCP Main Theater to witness the performance of legendary pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy with his sons, clarinetist, Dimitri Ashkenazy and pianist, Vovka Ashkenazy.

It’s quite rare for the Philippines to have an opportunity such as this but this was made possible by the International Peace Foundation. And this concert was part of the 3rd ASEAN event series Bridges-Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace which was facilitated by the International Peace Foundation.

In my excitement for this concert, I did something or rather did not do something which I would normally do. I failed to familiarize myself with the concert programme for that night. So I went there barely knowing some of the pieces while the others were something that I’ve never heard before.

Fortunately, the first piece that was played Robert Schumann’s Three Romances, Op. 94 was quite familiar to me. But what wasn’t familiar to me was having the oboe part being played by the clarinet. Obviously, it was Dimitri who played and he was accompanied by the elder Ashkenazy which was the setup for the entire first half of the concert. It was odd hearing this piece with the clarinet and it took me a while to get used to it. I’ve always associated the tone of the clarinet more suited to jolly, humorous, and impish tunes.

Well, the next two pieces just managed to show just that. I am totally unfamiliar with Witold Lutoslawki’s Dance Preludes for Clarinet and Piano but I enjoyed this more than the first piece since the five short movements had more variety especially in tempo and I always enjoy it when the clarinet is played in a faster pace. And this variety was also shown in the last piece for the first half which was Francis Poulec’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano.

I purchased a clarinet a few years ago just because I got interested in it. I initially wanted an oboe but upon realizing how diffiicult it was to play and also how expensive it was, I settled for the clarinet. I play the clarinet badly and seeing Dimitri play it with such ease especially when taking wide leaps from the chalumeau register then up to the altissimo register. His performance just basically told me that it would take a miracle for me to become half as good as him.

The second half of the concert featured piano duets with Vovka now joining his father on stage. They first played Franz Schubert’s Divertissement a l’hongroise in G minor, Op. 54 D. 818. But I missed much of the first movement since during that time, people from my section of the audience were moved to better seats. So as I watched the entire first half of the concert seated at the top among the balconies, I got fortunate to be seated at the third row at the left side of the orchestra section during the second half. It was a bit too near the stage for my taste but this was much better than the balcony.

So it was still with disbelief that I listened to the next two movements of the piece. I wasn’t able to settle down, relax and really focus on the performance since I still couldn’t believe that I was seated that close to the stage.

Fortunately, I got settled down by the time they started the final piece which was La Valse by Maurice Ravel. And I truly enjoyed this one although I am more familiar with this piece played by the orchestra. As I’ve said earlier, I prefer the bright and somewhat lively tunes for the clarinet. But with the piano, I prefer the dark and more disturbing tunes and this one really fit the bill.

While I was able to see Vladimir’s fingers in action a lot better, I wasn’t able to see his face. It would’ve been very interesting to see how he interacted with his son since I was able to see Vovka’s face clearly. And how the pianists communicate and interact while playing their own parts is one of the things I really look forward to whenever I watch piano duets.

The audience gave them a resounding applause with majority giving them a standing ovation. And it was very refreshing when the three of them seemed to be joking around while enjoying the audience’s appreciation for their performance. And the humor didn’t stop at that. For an encore, the three of them played something composed by Nikolai Morozov. Dimitri explained that this piece was derived from a Russian fairy tale about a goat that was taken care of by a lady. And this goat wandered around and ultimately got eaten by wolves. It sounds crazy but that’s how the fairy tale goes, according to Dimitri. I tried getting the title of this piece from him but he himself didn’t know the title of the fairy tale.

Despite knowing the tragic outcome of the goat in the end, I truly enjoyed this encore especially since this was the first time I was able to see Dimitri playing up close. I was able to savor and hear the sound a lot better, heck I could even hear the sound of the keypads! I really like it when things loosen up at concerts like this and it eliminates a lot of the stiffness that a lot of people think is prevalent in classical music performances.

Right after the concert, the three graciously signed whatever stuff that the fans had with them. It was indeed an unforgettable night for all those who were able to attend this rare event.

Pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy

Clarinetist Dimitri Ashkenazy

Pianist Vovka Ashkenazy


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