Saturday, May 4, 2013


The ‘prize’ for my favourite concert of last year was a no contest. The Mahler Chamber Orchestra’s three-in-one show at Berlin’s Radialsystem was a walk-away winner. So one of my first bookings, this season, was for seats to repeat the experience. They say you shouldn’t: it’s never as good second time around. Was it?
Yes and no.
It was a lovely night, and we could sit by the river, pre-concert, and drink lethal red wine, from rented goblets (2e if you don’t take it back!) and nibble (luke-warm) spinach pastry, until a Weberian horn fanfare announced open slather. For the three-in-one system was on again (hurrah!) and its first come, first served for places.

The opening choice was between the full orchestra with the Siegfried Idyll in the main hall, or a Stockhausen piece for trumpet and tape-recorder upstairs. Well, we’d heard the Wagner plenty of times, so we hurried up to the fifth floor, where you can perch or lie around the studio, and installed ourselves. So did a wee sparrow, who must have come for Stockhausen lessons.

The piece? A succession of notes and noises with no obvious relationship or relevance to one another. The young player, Matthew Sadler? Very clever, appealing and technically adept. But his table of mutes resembled unnervingly a table of sex toys … The tape-recorder? Why? another instrument or instruments would have served just as well. Anyway, the sparrow stayed almost to the end, and hopefully is not now practising muted tweeting. My thought? Interesting; but once will be enough, thanks.

We were going to proceed to the third floor for some DJ tricks – putting beats into classical music? -- but we were too slow, so we ended up in the main hall for a Schnittke trio with the Sasha Waltz dancers.
Disappointment. Last year, the dance element was one of the show’s highlights: the full company mixing with the orchestra in some seriously fun choreography. This year, we had only two dancers, performing a pretty but not very original pas de deux. It was perfectly nice, but not what I’d hoped for. And – quibble - the string players were placed at the back of the stage, so the music faded out backstage somewhat.

 But then a little surprise. These concerts are great for surprises. We were going to sneak out before the Hartmann string-quartet with drums. Drums are my very least favourite instrument. Especially the scratchy kind. But we didn’t; and the piece – and the not thrashed drums – turned out to be very pleasant. Although I’ve no idea what the backdrop video was all about, and soon stopped looking at it.
And from here, it was all up, up, and up!

 Up to floor five for a glorious bit of Bruckner’s String Quintet in F, gloriously played by a quintet from the orchestra’s ranks. The sounds were beautiful, and I got quite carried away by the little gentleman viola player, who lifted his left leg from the ground, as if he were about to take off, in passages of emotion. Then a gentle sextet chunk of Strauss, R. I snuggled. And quite managed to forget that I was missing a George Benjamin viola duo (which was, apparently, ace) downstairs.
It was getting a bit late, now. But the last item in the Hall was the Schumann concert piece for four horns … all the programmed pieces of the night were of sensible proportions: 20-30 minutes, so I could make one more. With the aid of one more glass….
Thanks goodness I did. The Schumann was the highlight of the night. And we netted seats in row three, right in front of the soloists, who were quite superb to hear and to watch … four horns? so much more original that a trumpet and a tape-recorded! …. it was a grand, grand experience, and one to send you singing out into the night.

Or singing down to the riverside, while a mini-orchestra played tangos, for one more and one too many sips of good French red with our fellow concert-goers...

Another thoroughly interesting and enjoyable evening.  A fun experience. But I expect that now at Radialsystem. And of the MCO. My goodness, the two together provide a wonderful night out.

Any quibbles. None about the music, although I feel that we were short-changed on the (advertised) Sasha Waltz contribution.
I suppose its all part of the exercise and atmosphere, that you have to line up for each venue and item. And half the queue, for the small studio or the deck, doesn’t get in. Which seems a pity. So you have to learn to be quick. But some of us, more or less handicapped, can’t do that … and can’t really cope with the crushing, shoving and standing in line, either. I sha’n’t be daunted. I’m taking my walking (and running) stick next time!
And please, management, get rid of the ‘branding’ system of entrance. It has most unpleasant references for some of us. There must be an easier way…

And .. see you soon and often in the months to come …!

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