Sunday, May 29, 2005

If there is one picture I would like to have for this particular blog, it would be a photo of the violin section of Het Residentie Orkest strumming their violins like guitars. I didn't have a camera with me, though, and even then I doubt I would have been quick enough off the mark.

It's not often you see a classical music audience stomping and clapping in the aisles like a revivalist congregation, but that's what happened last night in Den Haag. What fun it was too. Suddenly I understand about Mozart popularizing music in his day, and just how avant garde he must have seemed.

The truth is, there will be no audience for The Hague's residential orchestra in ten years' time unless they start broadening their appeal, and I suspect this is true of most of the orchestras in Europe as well. The current audiences are old. Last night I looked around and well... suddenly I was in the older category rather than the youngest person there.

So what was this fabulous concert? Let me tell you about it. Firstly, it was a concert I chose rather than Paul, probably because I thought it would be guitar music. Anyway the program featured Villa Lobos and some Brazilian stuff I had never heard of.

Secondly, it was not what I was expecting.

We arrived at the Dr Anton Philipszaal to the sound of a drum band causing mayhem at the entrance. I thought it was a group of buskers trying to raise some cash from the concertgoers.
Ahem. It was the opening act. They followed us into the concert hall, whistles blaring and drums at deafening volumes. A fifteen-strong percussion band called Absurdo thumping out Samba rhythms that had the greybeards waggling their Zimmer frames enthusiastically.

The Villa-Lobos followed this unusual introduction. The first, Dança Frenética, held no suprises and was quite soothing after the rumbunctuous start to the evening's performace. The second, the Dança dos mosquitos, was very witty, with violins humming the mosquito whine and the rest of the orchestra creating a strong jungle feeling. Though the final swat with the percussion, ending the mosquito hum once and for all, evoked a roar of laughter from the audience.

The final piece as Bachiana Brasileira nor.5, a gorgeous piece for 8 cellos and a soprano.

Interval was livened up by the reappearance of Absurdo, providing a lively interactive show that demanded - and got - wholehearted audience participation.

The highlight of the evening was the second half though. We came back into the hall, and along with the orchestra on stage were two electric guitars, a drumkit... and the drumkit was being very active throughout the tuning up process, almost drowning it out.


Then the conductor came on stage with a lounge jazz/soul singer. A Brazilian woman. The drumkit didn't stop at all. There was no silence at all, the conductor just turned around and slowly pulled in the orchestra.

Wow. The big bands of the 'Sixties had nothing on this. What a sound, what an experience. Symphony orchestra meets lounge rock band. The impact Mozart's Magic Flute had on popular audiences way back when suddenly takes on meaning.

I'll go again. And I'll buy the CD if they ever release it.