Saturday, January 08, 2005

Bach contortions

I love Johann Sebastian Bach - his Cello Suites are some of my all time favourite musical pieces (especially as played by Pierre Fournier). This guy perfectly sums up what I love about Bach:
"Listening to Bach is like watching energy pass from gear to gear in a complicated - but perfectly aligned and synchronised - machine. Machine turned to art. And somewhere in between - because humans err - art to humanity. Above all this Bach's music has a great sense of beauty. Because so much of his music has an abstract foundation, it can be quite easily taken out of context and employed on its own. The result of all this is an inexorable, often irresistible sense of movement beyond the material and the touchable."

Bach's Brandenburg Concerti have moved me since my early 20s when music student friends performed them at our university, Goldsmiths College. But I had never heard them performed professionally until last night, when we saw and heard the Feinstein Ensemble perform at Queen Elizabeth Hall.

One of the greatest pleasures I derive from attending classical concerts is not simply hearing a piece of work live but seeing it interpreted physically. Live classical concerts are physical theatre and it's so satisfying - sometimes even thrilling - seeing the physical personalities of individual players come to life on stage. Some of the thrill comes from the fact that it is so unexpected. I expect my favourite singers to rock around on stage, but classical performers?

The Feinstein Ensemble not only performed with consumate musicianship, grace and clarity, but they looked like they were having alot of fun. The chief violinist danced like a clown as he made playful eye contact with the other musicians; the young recorder player swayed on her feet as if she was at an indie pop concert; the oboeist bobbed around like a member of Pan's People; the flautist (Feinstein himself) twisted his body like a snake charmer; the cellist barely moved her body, but her face contorted spectacularly through every emotion from depression to elation; and the harpsichord player simply tapped his head, smiling to himself, lost in his own world.

Nights like this remind me that musical performance can be a physical performance as thrilling as dance.

Related link:
+ Feinstein Ensemble Bach audio samples

Other links today:
+ Interactive guide to Indian Ocean tsunami warning system by the Guardian (Flash).
+ Guardian interview with call-girl blogger Belle de Jour
+ Elders' knowledge of the sea helped them escape tsunami disaster
+ What the internet "looks like" from outer space
+ Iraq? Whatever. Why the big issue of 2004 now leaves most people feeling bored.

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