We went to a fantastic concert last night in St Davids Hall in Cardiff. It was the Philharmonia with Esa-Pekka Salonenn conducting, and they did Bartok's Miraculous Mandarin, Shostakovich's 2nd Piano concerto, and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.
Both the Bartok and the Stravinsky created riots in the audiences on their first performances. Both take huge orchestras, and the Stravinsky uses 2 sets of timpani, 9 french horns, etc etc - the orchestra is enormous! Going to see an orchestra is a very different experience to listening to the cd. The sound is very different live to recorded - sometimes it is better recorded because the balance is adjusted by the engineers to be near perfect, whereas in the concert hall it is often dependent on where you sit, and the skill of the conductor in balancing the orchestra so that the audience hears clearly. I have been to concerts where you know that the recorded version on the radio will sound very different from what you experience in the hall, and actually better than what you are hearing.
Last night however was flawless. Esa-Pekka deserves his reputation as a conductor. There is a trend towards speed in music these days, and there are lots of recordings which must be minutes shorter than earlier versions of the same pieces. I listened to a bit of Tchaikovsky ballet music the other day and turned off in sheer annoyed frustration - no dancer in the world could dance at the speed they were playing! You get this so often now and it destroys the music.
Music needs to be allowed space to say what it has to say - the spaces between the notes are as essential as the notes themselves. The second movement of the Shostakovich is slow and they gave it all the space it needed so that it was relaxed but not at any time losing tension and sagging. Brian was very impressed by his conducting - and as B has conducted the Shostakovich he knows it extremely well because Esa-Pekka was always there when he needed to be, in charge at all times, but also left the musicians to themselves when they were doing solos and so on.
It was magic.