Monday, February 8, 2010

Barenboim et Staatskapelle-Berlin triomphent à Paris

Three concerts of the phenomenal Staatskapelle-Berlin and their big boss, Saint Daniel Barenboim just finished last night and it was excellent as I expected it to be - and more.

If I had to single one artist  who I totally admire, then that would be Barenboim. That man is a performer, he's an extraordinary musician, and one of the best living conductors. Never Tristan sounds as good as with Barenboim, and he does it again and again.

After their run in London this wonderful orchestra [founded in 1742 = one of the oldest in Germany]  came to Paris to deliver a disturbingly excellent series of three concerts in which they presented 5 Piano Concertos by Beethoven and the orchestral pieces by Schönberg [please see Boulezian and Intermezzo for details of the London concerts]

After the concert last night I felt I lived a special evening, one of those when you could tell there was a moment in which the performance crossed the threshold of perfection and the music's let you in an extra dimension.  That happens sometimes with Jansons and his orchestra, but this was the first time it happened to me with Barenboim and Staatskapelle with the program which did not include Tristan und Isolde. In such a state of exultation, only 300m from the concert hall (Salle Pleyel), I saw this glorious picture of l'Arc de Triomphe [pic above] and thought it was a perfect fit for that Sunday evening.
Let's go back to the Night #1, February 5, and the program which included
1. Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.1
Allegro con brio, Largo, Rondo
2. Arnold Schönberg: Cinq Pièces
Vorgefuehte, Vergangenes, Farben, Peripetie, Das obligate Rezitativ
3. Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.4
Allegro moderato, Andante con moto, Rondo vivace

How clever is that to program Schönberg and Beethoven together?! Their musics share that capacity to move you very strongly and set you in one mood, let you get back to some kind of equilibrium and then swing you in a totally different --often unexpected-- direction. To me both musics are illustration of what the art historians refer to as "the permanently unstable equilibrium of the aesthetic life".

Barenboim and his awesome orchestra guarantee the sold out concerts and instead of taking an easy road, they put delicately a layer of Schönberg in each of their concerts in this series.  Many middle-aged folks around me, who almost spontaneously refuse to listen to Schönberg, were amazed to discover his music, and rushed to buy the CDs during the intermission...

I am always amazed to see Barenboim play and conduct. It comes so natural, so easy... I know it's a huge work behind which eventually makes all those meticulously sculpted details look so natural. You cross the line after which it's not Barenboim nor the Orchestra -- it's Beethoven who communicates with you!  Barenboim leads this Orchestra since 1992 and the complicity they built shows in their performance.

Night #2, February 6:

1. Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.2
Allegro con brio, Adagio, Rondo
3. Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.3
Allegro con brio, Largo, Rondo
2. Arnold Schönberg: Variations pour orchestre
Moderato, Langsam, Maessig, Walzertempo,Bewegt, Andante, Langsam, Sehr rasch, Etwas langsamer, Finale

It's Saturday and I am more rested, more receptive, and God am I loving this! Listening to this night's variations by Schönberg, I think I figured out secret of Staatskapelle: it is their brass section. There is never a little moment in which the brass escape control (which happens to all orchestra!). And again, it is striking that you feel the cohesion among the musicians and their almost instinctive interaction with maestro Barenboim.
And what about Saint Barenboim? I was seated behind the orchestra that night and I could see his face while he was playing and communicating with the orchestra. There I saw the moment the music has started he transforms inti a 67 years old BOY! There he is, channeling the wunderkind he once was.

Night #3, February 7:

1. Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.5
Allegro con brio, Adagio un poco mosso, Rondo
2. Arnold Schönberg: Pelléas et Mélisande

Here comes the moment of pure perfection. It's the Emperor, and it's played vividly but with such a great delicacy. It was during Adagio that I felt like the music started to live on its own...
Just as I thought that was the absolute best of this series, they throw Schönberg's Pelléas et Mélisande: EVERYTHING seemed to work, and maybe the incident* --which happened right before they started to play-- maybe even helped them to get that extra rush and put even more vigor in their music. The strings and the English cor were just sensational! Even they were visibly thrilled when they finished the piece.
I don't know much about the final burst of ovations:  I was busy shouting my lungs out with BRAVOs :)

*The incident I mentioned happened when Barenboim rose his hand to start  Pelléas et Mélisande, and  one of the Japanese tourists (from a group seated behind the orchestra) took the picture of Barenboim with the flash on. Visibly annoyed, he stopped and said "Oh no! S'il vous plait de ne pas prendre des photos.  Ça dérange!" grrrrrrrrrr-grrrrrr! "Et c'est écrit partout, en plus!" After a short heavy silence, there was a quick applause and St.Barenboim resumed his unforgettable conducting.


I never pay attention to who's in the audience. I was told that there were many famous musicians who're in Paris right now,  sitting in the audience. In particular, our fav Martha Argerich was spotted on the first night. The second night there was Philippe Jordan who is preparing The Ring at the Opéra Bastille right now. He [Ph. Jordan] was Barenboim's assistant for several years and he knows very well the members of the Staatskapelle-Berlin (c.f. this blog entry). Yesterday I saw Villazon in the audience and discretely took a photo (see below). He was clapping enthusiastically with that recognizable boyishness, similar to the kind of boyishness you see in Daniel. 

I noticed a set of videos on YT of the Piano Concertos played by the Staatskapelle and Barenboim at the Klavier-Festival in Ruhr 2009.  Enjoy! 

Here is one of my favorite moments (starts after 2m15):

2 more concerts next week at Pleyel.


  1. Really hope you don't mind me asking, but you seem to be very au fait with many opera houses!
    I'm booking tickets for Muenchen Operfest, and am wondering if hoererplatz places in the Nationaltheatre are exactly what they're called: do you know is there any view of the stage? And please keep the excellent reviews coming!

  2. Hi cloud :) Thx!

    In Munich, it's pretty much "You get what's written on the box!" You don't see practically anything from those "seats" (there is a bar that you can lean on - you don't really get to seat!)

    Great thing about BSO in Munich is that no matter where you're seated you can hear the music and singers wonderfully.

    IMO you should go to about 50 euros/seat range to "optimize" your experience (you see & hear everything, and it's pleasant)

  3. Je te suis souvent, mais pas quand tu tombes dans l'idolâtrie... En même temps, pour Barenboim, j'étais prévenu !

  4. Ha! ;) Eh ça arrive chez les humains. Mais quel musicien & quel grand homme quand même!

  5. They are online! Have a look behind the scene

  6. That's cool. Thanks! Keep it up :)