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Filarmonica Della Scala 30th Anniversary programme of music by Rachmaninov – Conductor Matteo Franceschini

Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninov: 1873-1943



Filarmonica Della Scala 30th Anniversary programme of music by Rachmaninov  – Conductor Matteo Franceschini


I have seen opera and National Theatre drama in the special presentations that are regularly beamed to cinemas across the world. This is the first classical music concert I have seen in this way and it is if anything the best so far.

Occasionally these presentations are re-showings of filmed live performances. While a good way to see notable, first class music and drama, it is the live transmissions that carry a special quality of immediacy, even danger and get closest to actually being at the performance.

This concert was a case I point: beamed live from the extraordinarily beautiful La Scala in Milan one had a very keen sense of active participation in a live event. In fact technically, shot in full HD both images and sound were of the highest quality. Not only that but with 7 cameras and pre-planned, live editing carefully choreographed to the music, the sense of intimacy and immediacy of involvement was far, far greater than I have ever experienced in a live concert hall.

Superb direction takes you into the heart of the orchestra, where the sheer visceral physicality of playing is palpable. As a non-musician this must be as near as one can ever get to a sense of what it is like to actually play a musical instrument. We also get a powerful sense of involvement in the passionate expressiveness of the conductor (23-year-old prodigy Matteo Franceschini); not just in the broad physicality of his body language, especially of course arms and upper body. This involvement is available in the concert hall, though to a less intimate degree even if in the front seats. However, unique to this form of presentation we see facial expressions and the extraordinary experience of the intensity in the conductor’s eyes. We both see and sense at first hand the ever changing-dynamic of the conductor’s breath-taking simultaneous connection with the members of the orchestra and can feel the connection of this with the shared passionate engrossment with the music.

I learned more about the structure of the musical forms – here the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony – than I have ever learned from reading and previous concerts I have attended. The editing choreography showed for example how a motif, theme or melody was introduced by one instrument, taken up in turn, first by other single instruments, then on through whole sections of the orchestra; strings, woodwind, brass and of course eventually, all these sections literally in concert to build either to say or crescendo or to the diminuendo that presages the introduction to a melodic theme. Anyone familiar with the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini knows that a dazzling display of virtuoso solo piano sections, picked up and developed by the orchestra, build through a series of crescendos to a moment of silent pregnant pause, achingly anticipatory of the inevitability of the opening, almost inaudible, first notes of one of the most beautiful melodic themes in music. I have never yet heard this transition in performance without tears in my eyes and for those who take a superior attitude to Rachmaninov’s more accessible melodies like this one – all I can feel is sympathy. Yes it is romantic and tuneful; but not to sense the underlying melancholic sinews, the sheer Russian soul in his music is for me at least, to miss something deep about why so many people have always and will always, love his music.

The concert opened with the world premier of a contemporary piece Ja Sam, (Rachmaninov’s childhood nickname), apparently inspired by his music. I confess this was a bit beyond me though interesting. After the Rhapsody took us to the interval; the soaring romanticism of the 2nd Symphony made a beautifully satisfying second half.

Whatever your view of Rachmaninov, my underlying point here is that the absolutely distinctive intimacy of the filmed close-up image with which we are so familiar in movies, here adds a dimension to our absorption and involvement in the music which simply is not available to the regular concert-goer.

All the diverse and blending visual textures of shining brass; glowing, grained woodwind woods; fragile bows; vibrating percussion are superbly and absorbingly photogenic without distracting from the music for one second. We see the elegant, elongated fingers crowned surprisingly with run-ragged nails, of young piano Virtuoso Alexander Romanovsky; racing, no dancing, in an impossibly fast, controlled intricacy that defies belief. We are struck by the incongruity of the oddly sideways indirectness of playing the flute; as we look at the chaotic scramble of pipes that is the French Horn we wonder not just how such an instrument was ever conceived, but also having been created why almost surreally, it is actually played with the player’s fist stuck in the outlet for its sound. Images abound; evoking thoughts of the miraculously diverse application by music and musicians of the simple scientific principle of friction.

Apart from the special sense of being physically present at a performance whose pleasures are often as much social as artistic; I am tempted to suggest that the engrossing, intimate involvement that almost defines the cinematic experience, makes this way of experiencing great musical performance absolutely unique and in many ways preferable to physical attendance at the concert.

Test it for yourselves: the next Filarmonica concert to be broadcast live to cinemas in on Monday 21st May and includes Beethoven’s 4th Symphony and some Italian pieces. More precise details should soon appear on the Cineworld websites.

This was a revelation to me. I cannot recommend more highly this way of experiencing in a sense at first hand, the excitement and satisfaction of great music – at remarkably modest prices (£14 for adults).

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