Friday, April 26, 2013

TSO and Photo Choreography

I made the notes on this concert ages ago and realized I never actually posted them.  So without further ado, on April 17th the TSO and guest artist Gil Shaham were featured in a program called My Homeland.  

I've loved "The Moldau" (a movement of "Ma Vlast" or "My Fatherland") since having to study Smetana and program music in high school.  Funny how dissecting music doesn't ruin my enjoyment of it in the same way as dissecting literature.  When the TSO put "Ma Vlast" on the program I jumped at the chance to hear "The Moldau" as it should be played and the rest of the work in its entirety.

Gil Shaham
(credit: Christian Steiner)
The concert opened with Mozart's "Turkish Violin Concerto No. 5".  Gil Shaham had entertaining facial expressions and sometimes seemed to be playing directly to conductor Peter Oundjian. When Mr. Shaham was not playing he looked like he could have been dancing to the music in his head.  The smiling, friendly personally he displayed was very fitting for the quick light dance style piece.  It was a shame that after the first movement we had to wait so long for the late comers to find their seats.  Oundjian even commented "there's some lovely seats up here" and pointed to a few in the front row.  I recognized more of the music than I thought I would and it's probably my favourite of the violin concertos I've heard.

Prague (
Recognizing more than I expected happened with "Ma Vlast" as well.  There was what some people would call a gimmick to the performance.  Two gentleman, James Westwater and Nicholas Bardonnay spent June and October in the Czech Republic taking photos and then fit them to the music.  The end result was pretty astounding and they coined the term "photo choreography" to describe it.  While the orchestra played, the images were projected on three screens above them.  The images weren't meant to tell the same story that Smetana's program music was, but just match/create moods and feelings.
I loved and recognized the opening movement titled "The High Castle".  This was paired with images of what I imagine was Prague, as well as castles and forts on green hills against a gorgeous blue sky.

"The Moldau" was my favourite and fittingly the photos were mostly of water.  At one climax just
The Moldau (
before the section in the music where the river starts to flow through the city and the melody changes, the somewhat suspensful music was paired with photos of a group of people in various canoes and kayaks going down some rough water beside a water fall.  Some people made it, some capsized but it fit the music absolutely perfectly!
The movement "Sarka" or "A Princess" was paired with images of churches and cathedrals, all very regal looking.  Prior to the performance when Oundjian described the piece, he gave the most details about this section which he admitted to liking very much.  It's the story of a girl who hates all men (at which point he quipped "nothing really changes does it").  She poisons them all and they start falling asleep, "starting with the second bassoon".  Sure enough in the music there were a final series of calls that started with the bassoon so perhaps that's what he was talking about.

The images for an "Encampment" took on a darker tone moving to World War Two and opening with a picture of a swastika.  There were historical pictures from a concentration camp with the more graphic being held in slight shadow, never coming into perfect focus but getting the point across without needing to be.  The music switches abruptly between dark and light and to counter the darkness were images of peace.  One was even of a wall with John Lennon's picture and hearts.

This isn't the first piece that has been paired with images by Westwater and Bardonnay.  I didn't think that it detracted from the music, and it wasn't hard to focus on the orchestra and not watch the pictures.  However, that isn't the same opinion held by others.  "Ma Vlast" with photo choreography was a co-commission and had its debut in Scotland with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.  This is a review of that performance where the photo aspect is lambasted in the comments,
All I can say is experience it yourself before making a judgement.  I'm glad I found the review after I'd already seen the performance.

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