alan little’s weblog

finally made it

22nd February 2005 permanent link

Dear Diary: a couple of weeks ago I walked through a beautiful snow-covered city on my way to a hot date with a beautiful exotic foreign woman, and the hot date consisted of hearing a major league German Symphony Orchestra on top form. This is what I came to Munich for.

Somehow the hot dates have never quite managed to coincide with the picturesque snowfall before. This could be related to the fact that I actually spent two of my German winters in India. The winters when I was in Germany and single, picturesque snowfall meant grab my snowboard and head for the hills. And for the last year and a half dates of any kind have been few and far between for Maria and me.

So I bought Maria concert tickets for Christmas in order to make sure at least one date would happen this winter. An all-Russian programme seemed like a good idea, so I opted for The Munich Philharmonic playing Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante for Cello and Orchestra with Han-na Chang, cello, and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, conducted by Arild Remmereit. Who? Exactly – but read on.

It was great. I was worried when we arrived at the concert hall and Maria saw a notice on the door saying the planned conductor for the evening, Antonio Pappano, was sick and had been replaced by Mr Remmereit. I had never heard of Signor Pappano before either, but he made a very highly acclaimed recording of the Prokofiev with Ms Chang so I was looking forward to hearing them.

But if the guy’s sick, he’s sick. The first few minutes of the Prokofiev were a little uneasy – Ms Chang glancing over her shoulder a lot as if she wasn’t quite sure if she could trust the orchestra under an unknown deputy conductor and wanted to keep an eye on what they were up to. But it came together quickly, and we loved it.

Ms Chang and Signor Pappano’s CD of the Prokofiev was on sale in the interval; Ms Chang was even signing them in a very cheerful and friendly manner – rather than collapsing exhausted backstage, as I’m sure I would if I had just played something like that. Maria didn’t want to buy one, though, and she convinced me that she was right: music like that is best heard live. It’s a long, complicated and strange piece of music and neither of us could imagine how we would ever find the time, energy and inclination to sit down and listen to it properly without being in a concert hall.

So the concerto went well, given the very good soloist, after she had settled down and decided to trust the orchestra. What about the Tchaikovsky? Orchestra now with unknown deputy conductor and without very good soloist, playing a romantic piece I barely knew? It was stunning. It’s a big, obvious, unsubtle piece of music, but really rather fine if it’s played with enough enthusiasm. Remmereit and the Müncheners did it with real fire and drive – definitely up there with the Suisse Romande’s Mussorgsky last year as one of the most exciting orchestral performances I’ve ever heard. I see the Süddeutsche Zeitung was impressed too.

On a cursory glance through Arild Remmereit’s CV, he’s done a lot of work with relatively unknown orchestras but the Munich appears to be the biggest name band he has worked with. I hope there will be lots more – I would jump at a chance to hear him again.

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