Sunday, June 07, 2009

Cool music

Every year the Strasbourg Orchestra holds an outdoor concert in the Jardin de deux rives, a park that straddles the French and German side of the Rhine River as it passes near the city. The event is designed to attract interest in classical music for a broader audience, and as such is designed to be easily digestible - short, familiar music with a liberal sprinkling of movie themes.

The crowd was fairly large at the start of the performance, and the setting sun shone over happy families picnicking on the grass. All was pleasant when the opening strains Enio Morricone’s theme from “The Incorruptibles” kicked off the proceedings, but by the time we reached the Chopin piece, it became very clear that the wind, and the plunging temperatures were having a detrimental effect on both the audience’s attention, and the orchestra’s abilities. Frozen fingers can not a nimble arpeggio make.

Surprisingly, I found the conditions actually aided my enjoyment of the music. Reaching into that reserve of dumb-animal stoicism that I used to draw on in order to shovel driveways in –30 blizzards, I managed to find a place of zen. Once I could no longer feel my extremities, there was only me and the sublime voice of Amel Brahim-Djelloul , and later, the surreal virtuosity of François Thuillier’s tuba (the first time I’d heard a tuba solo outside of the A&W theme. My mind was blown).

Remarkably, while several hundred members of the audience were pushed by the increasingly high winds back to the relative comfort of their cars, the vast majority (even those not unselfconscious enough, to cuddle up with the nearest Irishman for warmth) hang around for the grande finale - the “Star Wars” theme, complete with desultory fireworks.

As the weak applause for that quickly faded (the audience was quite literally sitting on its hands, and for good reason), the maestro demanded another round of handclapping: “It’s not many orchestras that would be able to continue to play under these conditions,” he rather smugly pointed out. So true. But then, it isn’t too many audiences that would stick it out either. And we didn’t benefit from the sitting under the floodlights.

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