Cross Europe like a chatty superhero, stop at every corner in a European country in the presence of artists you care about and who know you and are open to sharing their experience with you, then fly, because this tour is about hearing and being heard.
The event takes place in Amsterdam, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, and the United Kingdom this fall before making its way to the U.S. in November. It follows the biography of Rolando Villalobos: a leading, “bordering-on-indelible” young Spanish pianist, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, working in a way that he hopes will translate into a recording contract and greater international recognition, and as an introduction to the emerging institutions and students of music that have been created since Valdès Menotti, André Watts, Glenn Gould, and Lalo Schifrin introduced the profession to the world.
That said, here’s where the highlights of this incredible pop-up approach to symphonic repertory start and finish. The opening night was in a tiny, baroque style room at a tourist-trap bar in the small Dutch town of Rosengard, which is very much an example of a small town that is no longer quite what it was. Another is a tiny soprano line-up, to which conductor Nathaniel Kennedy had the force of voices (and voices themselves) as well as the might of Rudolf Kleinlin’s sparkling harpsichord playing to draw in the crowd. In contrast to the original conception of the program, which was sure to be a dearth of star wattage, the result was the most energetic opening act.
The second part of the concert began with “Arcadia,” an early Bach anniversary concerto with completely unforced instrumental musicality, orchestra, and singing. Then the cultural capital of the art-for-arts scene in Western Europe, Munich, provided the flash point for movement into what one can almost call more modern music by the planned release of: Giacomo Puccini’s irreplaceable, death-defying cult classic, Turandot, which ended with a massive projection of the opera within the opera. If anything, it seemed that the audience in Munich, with its wealth of top-notch, good acoustics performance stages, the proximity of which makes them one of the world’s most interesting international centers of cultural vitality, turned out to be even more eclectic than the Dutch crowd.
Meanwhile, in the first row, among the public, were the great Robert Shaw, plus a surprising inflatable percussionist played by an unknown young American. His many guitars were suspended from the ceiling above the orchestra, and you could almost see the sound being up, up, up the thing (he was a man who wanted to scream!). The music was lovely. Still, it was an uncomfortable gesture to the audience and to the composers that did not let the music rise above it.
In addition to poetry, Matthew Arnold extolled writing and the performing arts in a cello concerto written more than 100 years ago by Franz Liszt. Not that there wasn’t music there: the stunning final movement, which had tenor Ray Woodley sitting against a rising pool of water, reminiscent of Liszt’s original version of “Madama Butterfly” and modelled on Claude Debussy, and violinist Brian Ferneyhough (something of a wildcard for his ability to program and implement his own music). But the ensemble seemed to play from the rear of the venue, from the corners to the back of the stage, and his performance was only pleasant to the ears and eyes of an impatient audience at the back of the room.
At last, the big event: a stellar recital of some 90 minutes in a small English country house town filled with a surprising crowd that consisted largely of an impressive array of public and private arts patrons who had perhaps read the program and that gleaned the information from their directors. Emily Hampshire and Colin Currie, singing together in a new duet of Domenico Scarlatti songs, the daughter of one patron telling the other, “I hope she likes him,” was the perfect end to a perfect evening.