Carried away by the music
Mario Tabone Vassallo reviews a concert held at the Mediterranean Conference Centre to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Turkish-Maltese diplomatic relations.
Recently I delighted in a concert at the Mediterranean Conference Centre. This was essentially a Brahms evening, celebrating 50 years of Turkish-Maltese diplomatic relations.
The Bursa Symphony Orchestra (BSO) was directed by Alexei Galea Cavallazzi. For this concert, the BSO was complemented by local musicians.
The BSO is the only ‘State orchestra’ of Turkey; it was formed by the fusion of a string instruments chamber orchestra at Uludag University and a winds and percussion instruments ensemble of Bursa Metropolitan Municipality. It is a young orchestra, not just as regards its inception, but also in the context of the age of its musicians. This augurs very well for the future.
Galea Cavallazzi is himself young, despite his extensive musical experience. He studied violin and piano at Purcell School in London, graduating from Pembroke at Oxford. He furthered his studies at and graduated from Moscow State Conservatoire.
The original programme was due to open with a Tribute to Charles Camilleri by Mariella Cassar Cordina, followed by Johannes Brahms’s Violin Concerto in D Major, with the exciting, young French-Russian violinist, Fedor Rudin.
The latter’s biography shows that he is the first prize winner of international violin competitions such as Henri Marteau, Rodolfo Lipizer and Aram Khachaturian.
After the interval we were due to have Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C Minor.
However, the order was reversed. I was later to find out that Rudin had been ill and needed more time for the medication to take effect to enable him to go on stage. We were not aware of all this behind-the-scenes drama. Rather, we were pleasantly surprised by the smooth dramatic opening of the evening. The orchestra was assembled on stage and the audience was relaxed.
When Galea Cavallazzi climbed the podium, and the BSO struck the first chords, it was obvious that we were in for the delights of the Symphony in C Minor. This symphony may be considered as a tribute to Ludvig van Beethoven, for whom many expected Brahms to be a natural successor. Some have gone so far as to speak of the three Great Bs; Johann Sebastian Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.
Be that as it may, it took Brahms some 21 years to deliver this, his first symphony. There are various references to Beethoven’s music in it, particularly from his fifth and ninth symphonies. This is particularly obvious in the Brahms’ symphony fourth movement, when the references to the pastoral are blatant. It is no surprise that Brahms’ First Symphony has been referred to as Beethoven’s Tenth. But this is no plagiarism, but an homage to a cherished master and the inventiveness of Brahms makes the composition his own.
After the surprise of the unexpected order of music, we were quickly carried away by the beautiful, formal introduction to this symphony, perhaps processional, and the interpretation offered us.
The BSO truly deserves its reputation as a very good symphony orchestra. The tight, sensitive conducting brought out a subdued excitement in me, a humble aficionado as opposed to an expert.
This seemed to carry the rest of the audience too which, while not a full house, was of a good size. One could almost feel them carried by the music, perhaps taut during the first movement, more relaxed through the lighter second and third, and again perhaps, pleasantly tensing up during the fourth, only to be caressed by the pastoral references and the conscious or subconscious recognition of the familiar phrases in homage to Beethoven’s ninth.
During the interval all those I met were pleased with what they had heard and looking forward to the second half of the programme. This opened with the Tribute to Charles Camilleri by Cassar Cordina. I had never heard any of her music before, but thoroughly enjoyed this composition, and of all the music performed on the day, it was the piece my companion enjoyed the most.
For some reason, I kept feeling a resonance with Philip Glass’s music, a composer who invariably gives me great pleasure.
I hope I will have the opportunity to hear more of her music, whether dedicated to my friend and fellow Ħamrun man Charles Camilleri, or not.
The orchestra seemed to like it, definitely they played it with confidence and verve, and seemed to respond warmly to the directions of Galea Cavallazzi. Cassar Cordina had a warm, loud of applause and had to go on stage to acknowledge it; courage.
Having, during the interval, become aware of Rudin’s indisposition, I was rather anxiously waiting for the violin concerto. I need not have feared. I was less lucky in hoping that whoever was seated behind me would refrain from kicking the back of my seat; c’est la vie.
I am pleased to say Rudin does not resort to tawdry comportamento, but just relies on his musicality to entrance the audience. I regret that for the very first few but several minutes of the first movement I was distracted by individuals in the vicinity browsing their telephone screen. No doubt Trump, Xi or Putin or all three, were anxiously seeking their advice.
I lack the qualities of the mystics, who can elevate into higher spheres while surrounded by the bruits of the world. I need a traditional liturgical approach, sadly lacking in our churches too, nowadays.
But quickly the music did its job, not just on me but also on the distractors, and we were all carried away. It has the standard three movements, with the usual fast, slow, fast sequence.
I seem to recall someone telling me or reading somewhere, that it was originally intended to be in four movements.
It is reputed to be very demanding of the violinist. I believe some blame the exacting nature on the fact that Brahms was essentially a pianist and not a violinist. For lesser mortals like me, it is glorious music that is most orecchiabile and has been the inspiration for the likes of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina. This, for me, is particularly so in the third movement, which is in rondo form.
It was a pleasure to see how well Rudin and the orchestra related to Galea Cavallazzi and how this trio of forces responded to and stimulated one another to give an electric performance. Perhaps Galea Cavallazzi’s grounding in the violin helped in this.
This performance had a standing ovation and several curtain calls. Eventually we were treated to an encore by the Turkish composer Cemal Resit Rey, specifically the last movement of his symphonic poem, Turkey.
It is a riotous composition, a delightful piece, reworked medieval dance rhythms, with modern instrumentation and Turkish influences.
It was a wonderful evening and, while at first I was unsure of the 6pm start, I now consider it a good idea because it allowed for early retirement or alternatively, for a pleasant dinner afterwards that was not too late.
I was surprised at how the MCC could produce such a world class performance and at such reasonable prices. I ascertained afterwards that the MCC has organised several other concerts, bringing to perform in Malta the likes of the Georgian State Sinfonietta and the Cheliabinsk State Chamber Orchestra.
The MCC’s pioneering work in bringing world class orchestras to perform in Malta should be applauded. This is surely indicative of the international standing and connections in the musical world of the management of the MCC.
This will have been facilitated by the assistance of the Russian government, the Ministry for Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia as well as the European Foundation for the Support of Culture, which have, at various times, co-sponsored these concerts.
I was curious as to how there could have been such a good rapport between this wonderful young Turkish orchestra, a French-Russian soloist and a Maltese conductor. I am given to believe that Galea Cavallazzi went over to Turkey just before the concert in Malta and conducted the BSO, with great acclaim, in a concert there. Immediately afterwards they came over together for the concert in Malta.
Oh what it is to be young and able to manage all these exertions! I am grateful they did, because they delighted the audience.
As I said, the audience was numerous but not a full house. Perhaps the government ought to consider on such occasions inviting schools in rota to attend, or even selected residents of governmental old people’s homes, or even, why not, the odd prisoner or two.