To Roy Thomson Hall last night for the first time in over two years to see Gustavo Gimeno conduct (my first time) with Barbara Hannigan featuring in a major premiere in the first half. The concert kicked off with a 3 minute piece by Julia Mermelstein; in moments, into bloom. It was over too quickly to register much of an impression with me. I certainly enjoyed the Stravinsky Scherzo fantastique that followed. This seems to be Gimeno’s type of music and he had excellent control of rhythm, dynamics and colour which augured well for The Firebird coming up after the interval.
The big event was Zosha di Castri’s In the Half Light for soprano and orchestra setting text by Tash Aw. The composer describes it as reflecting “on the meaning of moving from one space to another and the simultaneously unsettling and exhilarating sensations this produces”. The problem with this, and especially when setting a highly impressionistic text, is that it really doesn’t give the listener (at least the first time listener) anything much to latch onto to get into the work. Repeated listening might well change that impression of course but what I experienced was moving through a series of fairly diffuse soundscapes inhabited by fragments of non-linear text (much of which was inaudible anyway). It’s not a particularly long work at 21 minutes or so but with nothing to hang onto it felt frustrating. It hardly needs saying though that it got a very committed performance from all concerned.
The Firebird was really good. Gimeno wasn’t afraid to go to the extremes of the dynamic range. The instrumental solos were lovely. Brass, woodwinds and percussion were on great form and the finale was quite thrilling. Even when it’s not staged this truly is a great work!
Photo credit: Jag Gundu
Missed learning something of the character of the performer’s “commitment.”
Fair point! I meant a couple of things. Principally that this was a typical Hannigan performance. Her body language conveyed intense concentration. It always does. I think I’m just a bit blasé about it having heard her live on quite a number of occasions. Gimeno too conveyed a kind of electric tension and one could see the orchestra reacting to that. So, mostly visual clues but the that’s one of the advantages of seeing a live performance I guess.
I had no problem “latching” onto Half Light Thought both music and performance so powerful I went back to hear it a second time. Consider it a haunting and profound meditation on liminal space, which by its nature is complex and elusive. It could be that it is a work that reflects female sensibilities more than male. Sorry to hear you are blase about Hannigan. I have heard her live in rectal and operas in several North American and European cities. She is a totally committed performer but for me that commitment and intensity is revealed by the extraordinary power and range of her voice as much as by body language. She sounds better than ever. As did the orchestra in both that work and Firebird.
“Blasé”, on reflection, seems a not very well chosen word. I think my problem (and it’s mine not hers) is that I’ve written about Barbara so many times I feel like I’m repeating myself. I need to find some new synonyms for “intense” and “committed”. As well as “amazing musicianship”. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this performance: https://operaramblings.blog/2015/10/08/the-hannigan-show/