September 28, 2008

A Musical Fairy Tale

The first of three Casual Concerts with the DSO


Igor Stravinsky
The Firebird


Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
Ingo Metzmacher - Conductor

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A Musical Fairy Tale

The first of three Casual Concerts with the DSO

by Nancy Chapple / Photos: DSO - Jens Paape; Ingo Metzmacher - Matthias Heyde

At the first of three Casual Concerts in the 2008-09 season, the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester was even more casually dressed than their audience. The women's apparel ranged from evening dresses to pant suits; many of the men were dressed in jeans and sport jackets. That probably constituted the greatest rupture with tradition: the musicians seem more exposed when we can perceive them as individuals than in their usual uniform black. The audience, filling about three-quarters of the Philharmonie, were the DSO's usual mix of families and couples and older music fans.

Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin

Ingo Metzmacher's introduction to Stravinsky's Firebird showed his enthusiasm and respect for the work. With an open and welcoming stance, he told the audience the fairy tale on which the ballet is based, having the orchestra demonstrate the melodic motives connected with the evil Katscheï, the thirteen bewitched princesses, and the hero Prince Ivan. He emphasized the effectiveness of Stravinsky's chosen instrumentation, the fine melodic shapes created by "his" orchestra, each of whom he warmly praised after their partial renderings. Specifically, he showed us the effect of harmonics in the string instruments combined with the harps, or how the sound in the string bass becomes darker and more threatening when they play closer to the bridge. The explication process was intended to make us into more conscious listeners. His explanations were linguistically too advanced for two young Barcelonans who accompanied us, but our ninth-grader found his talk a refreshing beginning to a concert.

Ingo Metzmacher

As discussed at a seminar on conducting for managers that I attended that weekend, Metzmacher has internalized one of the principles of great conducting: "Understand your resource situation, and work with what you have!" He arrived with a personal concept of The Firebird based on his own study of the work — and then realized it with this group, building on their particular strengths. For the listeners, the result was a strong feeling of connectedness between orchestra and leader.

Perhaps I'm an unusual listener in being particularly allergic to the concept of program music — but at any rate, I found myself forgetting the story details and the web of melodic motifs we had learned about, focussing instead purely on the sounds of the instruments, the sweep of the phrases, the build-up of excitement. The orchestra was in fine fettle. Of the soloists, the solo flute — with a sweet, sparkly sound like quick-moving water on a sunny day — and the solo oboe — self-contained, focused, with exquisitely long lines — particularly caught my notice.

This time around we had no opportunity to attend the After Concert Lounge, but you may want to plan to have a drink with orchestra and conductor following Brahms' Fourth Symphony, which the DSO will be performing at the next Casual Concert in February.