Tuesday, May 23, 2017

El Gallo de Oro

I just got an email from the Teatro Real about the Rimsky-Korsakoff opera that I will see towards the end of the month. Looking forward to this:

Doesn't that look interesting!

Xostakóvitx en Valencia

I mentioned that the orchestra concert, the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic, was in an entirely different hall, the Palau de la Música, as opposed to the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía:

This is more of a conservatory with several smaller halls downstairs and it is the home of the Orchestra of Valencia. It is quite a lovely place with a huge glassed-in conservatory with restaurant/bars at each end:

The hall itself is a good size:

I'm amazed I got a ticket (purchased online a couple of months ago) as every single seat was sold:

I mentioned that the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic only takes on a new musical director on rare occasions. From 1938 to 1988 they were directed by Yevgeny Mravinsky, famous for his sober and restrained conducting style. Regarding the orchestra, David Fanning remarked:
The Leningrad Philharmonic play like a wild stallion, only just held in check by the willpower of its master. Every smallest movement is placed with fierce pride; at any moment it may break into such a frenzied gallop that you hardly know whether to feel exhilarated or terrified.
So, rather than furiously provoking them into playing as so many modern conductors do (*cough* Dudamel *cough*), Mravinsky had to hold them back. Their current conductor, Yuri Temirkanov, who took over from Mravinsky in 1988 and is still at the helm, has a bit of the same style. No baton, conducts with sober movements, occasionally looks as if he is about to dig a trench, and then a moment later is beckoning gently for more lyricism. The orchestra are really excellent. The opening overture by Glinka, from his opera Ruslan and Ludmilla, opened at a furious tempo and was impressive with its sheer orchestral virtuosity. They do not play with any feeling of antiseptic precision, but with gusto.

Next was the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Dmitri Shostakovich. The title of this post uses the Valencian spelling of Shostakovich, which I find extremely entertaining! It reminds me a bit of some Nahuatl place names in Mexico. The soloist was the young Spanish violinist Leticia Moreno who studied at that same Escuela Superior de la Música Reina Sofía in Madrid that I took a photo of the other day. She has recorded the Shostakovich concerto with the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic for Deutsche Grammophon. She played it very well, with precision, passion, delicacy, ferocity--all of which it demands.

Shostakovich was working on the Violin Concerto No. 1 at the time of his second condemnation in 1948 and the work was not able to be premiered until 1955, by David Oistrakh, the dedicatee. The structure is very unusual: the first movement is a nocturne the Oistrakh described as a "suppression of feelings"; the second movement, a scherzo, he described as "demonic"; this is followed by a passacaglia of profound feeling and the last movement is a devil-may-care burlesque. I don't think I have ever heard of a concerto with nocturne and burlesque movements. In any case, it is a remarkable piece of music, dark and complex, and it was very well played. Ms Moreno had to return and bow several times. She was playing an instrument by Nicolò Gagliano from 1762 and it seemed to me to be perhaps too smooth a sound. It was often like the smoothest velvet, but I think I would have liked a bit more crunch.

The second half of the concert was the Symphony No. 5 by Tchaikovsky and I don't have a lot to say. I'm not sure you can say that this orchestra actually owns this music, but they certainly have an extended lease. Wonderful stuff and I was very happy to have heard the concert.

Here is a YouTube clip of Ms Moreno playing the last two movements, Passacaglia and Burlesque, with the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic conducted by Yuri Temirkanov:

Werther at the Palau

My first night in Valencia was spent at the opera. I've talked about the Palau Reina Sofía a lot. It is part of the City of Arts and Sciences complex, so let's start with the rest of my photo tour. Skipping over some minor items such as the radio-controlled model boat club that meets at the other end of that lagoon from the science museum, we finally come to the Palau. Notice that that huge curvy bit on top just hangs there, it is not supported by anything you can see from this angle:

Click to enlarge
That shiny white exterior is made up of millions of tiny tesserae. They are used to finish surfaces throughout the entire complex, as you can see in this photo of the edge of the lagoon:

Yes, little ceramic chips, as in mosaics. The interior walls of the hall are also finished with ceramic chips, tesserae, but in blue, not white. I think you can see the light reflecting off them in this photo:

Here is another photo of the exterior:

Sorry, for the angle, but I can't straighten it out without losing part of the photo. What you are seeing, starting from the bottom is a restaurant, then some meeting and classrooms (the complex includes a training centre for opera singers under the patronage of Plácido Domingo) and above that, the big window is to the lobby where opera-goers hang out at intermission. Here is a closer photo of the lower two levels:

And from the inside, looking out, during the intermission. What you are seeing, from left to right are, way in the distance, the towers of my hotel, then one end of the science museum, the Hemispheric (IMAX theatre), the suspension bridge, and on the far right, the roof garden on the parking garage. In the foreground is another bridge, for cars and pedestrians.

Here is a better photo of the folks gathered below.

As you can see, they are enjoying a wide assortment of snacks and champagne:

What are those ropes, guarded by black-clad ushers for, you ask? Ah, those delightful refreshments are only for the patrons of the opera! Quite different from the Teatro Real, where everyone had equal access, on payment, to the intermission refreshments.

But let me finish my photo-tour. Here is a look at the other end of the Palau which is on a higher level:

This is the entrance to the box office and to the hall and that big pylon has a guide on it:

And here is a photo from underneath the pylon which gives an interesting angle on the architecture:

Here is a nearby poster for upcoming events:

What troubled me about that poster was that there was nothing about the symphony concert the next night. So I asked around and it turns out that I have been confusing and conflating two different places! This Palau is only an opera house (and training centre). The symphony concert is in an entirely different Palau a couple of miles away:

Good thing I discovered that!

Now, about Werther: I don't know Massenet much and, apart from reading the Wikipedia article, I don't know the opera, though I have some acquaintance with the book, by Goethe, that it is based on. It is a late romantic opera, quite successful outside and inside France--the premiere was actually in Vienna. The performance was very well done; the orchestra were excellent and the leading singers quite good. The tenor, Jean-François Borras was very good. He is also scheduled to sing the role of Werther at the Metropolitan Opera in New York this year. Not sure of his age, but he seems a young artist as he only debuted in 2012. I was less impressed with the female lead, Anna Caterina Antonacci who, frankly, seemed too old for the role. I thought this in the performance itself and only just now looked her up to see that she is in her mid-50s. Her voice revealed that hooty wavering that sopranos seem to fall into as their voices age. If I am being indelicate, please forgive me! I'm only a guitarist, after all, and have no special expertise in understanding the voice. But, for me at least, there was a bit of a mis-match in the two leads.

The production was a bit disappointing: here we are in this ultra-modern opera house and the production seemed all too traditional. Apart from the largely ineffective use of a large video screen (made to look like a huge mirror) that dropped down from time to time, the production could have been from decades ago. Not that there is anything wrong with that! Perhaps we don't want to inflict a post-modern production on Massenet! The opera is interesting enough. One commentary talks about how the character was a huge revelation to the public when the novel appeared in the mid 1770s. It was an entirely new kind of person, one not defined by the church or the old class system, but one who creates himself out of romantic ideals--and then kills himself, of course! But while the production was certainly adequate, there was nothing in it that seemed particularly noteworthy. This is rather ironic, isn't it? The really dynamic and creative productions are at the 200-year-old Teatro Real in Madrid while the somewhat stogy ones are at the super-modern Palau de les Arts that opened in 2005!

Here, through the magic of YouTube is a 2010 production from the Opéra National de Paris with Jonas Kaufmann as Werther and Sophie Koch as Charlotte:

UPDATE: I lightened up one of the interior photos as it was very dark.

Train to Valencia

Now that I have access to my iPhone photos, I can go back and fill in the gaps. Let me say right up front that my preferred mode of travel is definitely the Spanish AVE trains--mind you, I haven't tried all the others though I did take a short trip in a French TGV quite a few years ago. Access and security are efficient and easy, the trains are lovely and comfortable, much quieter than an airplane, they serve a snack and beverages and you get to see the countryside. What's not to like? Here is a slightly blurry photo of the interior and yes, those seats are comfortable:

This is the streamlined front of the train:

Streamlined because, did I mention this?--the top speed is 300 kilometers per hour.

The train to Valencia takes around an hour and three quarters (which includes two brief stops), a distance of around 400 kilometers. By the way, Spain has the second largest number of high-speed train routes by kilometers in the world. China is first and Japan is third.

The history of civilization in Spain goes back to the founding of Cadiz by the Phoenicians around 1100 BC, which makes it over three thousand years old. Travelling through the countryside you see that just about every square inch of land is in use. For the first half of the trip, there were mostly olive groves:

But for the second half, grapevines. Sorry for the photo!

And that's about it for the train to Valencia. I didn't take any photos on the return because my iPhone was out of juice.

I'm going to divide up the posts so the next one will be on the opera at the Palau Reina Sofía.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Travel Day

Today is a travel day, so you might or might not get a post this afternoon. Then, once I can upload the photos from my iPhone, I can catch up a bit with the concerts. Last night I saw the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic, conducted by Yuri Temirkanov with Leticia Moreno, violin soloist. One interesting thing about this orchestra is that, since the 1930s, they have had two, count 'em, two conductors. The famous Yevgeny Mravinsky from 1938 to 1988 and Maestro Temirkanov from 1988 to the present. Honestly, the city of Saint Petersburg, which has been named Saint Petersburg, Petrograd, Leningrad and Saint Petersburg again, changes its name more often than the orchestra changes conductors.

The Saint Petersburg Philharmonic, under various names, premiered seven of Shostakovich's symphonies, concertos by Prokofiev, the Symphony No. 6 by Prokofiev, and in 1955, with David Oistrakh as soloist, the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich. And a lot of other stuff, of course. But one could expect that last night's program which included an overture by Glinka and that same Shostakovich violin concerto as well as Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, would be played with a certain authority. And so it was!

To whet your appetite this is the first piece on the program, Glinka, Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila performed by the, at the time, Leningrad Philharmonic in 1965, conducted by Mravinsky. Blogger won't embed, so just follow the link:

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A Walk Around the Ciutat

Valencia is an autonomous region of Spain and speaks a language virtually identical to Catalan, which is closely related to Spanish and a bit less related to the Occitan dialects of French. For example, the City of Arts and Sciences, that I walked around this morning is in Valencian: Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències and in Spanish: Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. Last night, until I discovered that the little individual sous-titres screen in front of me could be switched to any of about ten different languages, I listened to Werther sung in French with sub-titles in Valencian.

So let me take you on a walk with me. This is the lobby of my hotel:

for all of these, click to enlarge

which is actually on the 4th floor of the building with a five story (why five and not four?--one level is underground) shopping mall underneath. This is the entrance to the hotel, on the roof of the mall:

As soon as you leave the hotel and get out on the street, you can see the City complex with the Palau Reina Sofía in the distance:

Looking back at the hotel/shopping mall complex Aqua:

The first buildings in the Ciutat that you come to are the L'Oceanogràphic on the left and the L'Àgora on the right. The former is an open-air oceanographic park, the largest aquarium in Europe, and consists of several buildings of which you can only see one in this photo:

Here is another one:

The Agora is an event centre and right now seems to be being renovated. Right next to it is a very unusual asymmetrical suspension bridge for cars that crosses over the Ciutat (which is built on the old riverbed of the Turia, which was diverted in the 1950s).

I didn't get a really good shot of it, but the next building is the Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe, which is a very, very large science museum with a capacity of 10,000 people.

The Ciutat is large enough to have its own mileposts, though this one gives walking times to various buildings:

Here is a poster outside the science museum with a quote from my favorite philosopher, in Valencian:

I think that says that "Doubt is the beginning of knowledge." We are getting a bit closer to the Palau:

But the next building is actually L'Hemisphèric which is a planetarium and IMAX theatre in the shape of a giant eye:

The "eye" actually opens for showings, though I'm not sure how that works. There is a kind of amusement "ride" on one side of the Hemisphèric that consists of getting into a transparent plastic sphere, then floating around on the water. You fall down a lot:

Looking back, from here you can see the science museum on the left, the suspension bridge, the Agora and on the right another very large building, L'Umbracle, a really huge botanical garden that actually is the roof terrace to a parking garage.

I did not get a good photo of it as I couldn't get back enough, but here is one from the web:

That is only about halfway through my walk, but I think that is enough for one post!

In Valencia

I was hoping to put up a bunch of photos of my trip here yesterday, but I foolishly forgot my iPhone cable, so I can neither connect to my laptop to transfer photos, nor recharge the phone. So when it runs out, that's it. But I got a lot of photos yesterday on the train which I will share when I get back to Madrid tomorrow. I do have my good camera with me, and I am just about to get out and start taking photos!

Last night was Werther by Massenet in the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía and I will do a review of it in a day or so as well when I have access to my iPhone photos. It was my first late 19th century French opera and I quite enjoyed it.

Just a note about the hotel: this hotel, the Ilunion Aqua 4, is about as complete a contrast to the one in Bologna as could be imagined. Weird name, I know. It is one of a complex of, I think, three Ilunion hotels, 3, 4 and 5, so called because they are in something called the "Aqua multispacio." It seems to be three hotel towers sitting on top of a five story shopping mall. The reception desk for my hotel is on the 4th floor. It is a very nice, very modern hotel. I have some photos on my phone I will share, but here are a couple from my other camera. The room:

The bathroom:

Let me just say that European bathrooms, the toilets at least, tend to make ours in North America look primitive and inefficient.

Here is the view from my window, not particularly high in the hotel, but you can glimpse in the distance the Mediterranean:

This the neighbouring hotel:

And this is the top of the five story shopping mall:

There is just about everything there from a Häagen-Dasz counter to Taco Bell to a Mexican cantina, to a Japanese noodle restaurant to a cinema, to a Nespresso store, clothing stores without measure, and on and on. A person with a shopping addiction would never leave.

The Palau where I will be attending another concert tonight, is right next door, which means that it is a twenty-five minute walk. It looms so large that, like mountains in the desert, you think you are just about there, but no. Strictly speaking it is three blocks away, but two of those blocks include giant traffic circles and the other one is about a mile long, extending alongside the City of Arts and Sciences of which the Palau forms a part. Here is an aerial view to give you an idea:

Click to enlarge
The Palau, containing the opera house, symphony hall, chamber hall, theatre and so on, is on the left.

So, without further ado, I am off to wander around with my camera. I was thinking of being ambitious and visiting the historic centre, then popping out to the beach (I even brought shorts!) and then a few photos of the Palau. But it is all so enormous that I think I will be doing well if I just take some photos of the City of Arts and Sciences.

Hasta luego!

Suitable music from Valencia could be music by the great 16th century vihuelista, Luys Milan, who spent his whole life in Valencia. This is Narciso Yepes playing the six Pavanas by Milan: