Friday, February 05, 2010

New York Philharmonic

The New York Philharmonic's rendition of Schubert's 'Unfinished' Symphony No. 8 in B minor at the Barbican this evening really made the world stop. The first movement of this magnificent work is - how do I say this? - not like life, but life itself. Moments of such gorgeous tranquility, and then the phone rings. A parent dies. A friend kills herself. You are in the abyss, the forces close in over you and then, just when the sky is darkest, a lone oboe promises the dawn and the strings bring it closer, like an army of ants pulling away the covers. But the terror keeps coming back...

Alban Berg's Three Orchestral Pieces: There's a problem here. Not with the orchestra, which was brilliant, but with our time in which the visual has become so all-powerful and overwhelming as to have chased out the aural. All through the first two and a half movements, I could only think about Tom and Jerry or Lawrence of Arabia, so that I either saw mice scurrying into holes and cats' heads being flattened, or Bedouin tribes charging down hillsides as Peter O'Toole looked into the distant, shimmering desert. It was only when one of the percussionists brought a truly gigantic gavel-like instrument down on a hard block of wood (the programme notes warn that Berg 'takes Mahlerian transformation and exaggeration to an extreme' and the orchestra does not disappoint) that the aural finally displaced the visual so that the music occupied all of my brain.

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