Monday, May 4, 2009

Andreas Scholl and the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

We saw a great performance at Carnegie Hall last night. The Australian Chamber Orchestra performed a really wild piece from Pavel Haas, a new composition by Roger Smalley, a little bit of Haydn. And then they paired up with my beloved counter-tenor Andreas Scholl for several Handel arias. I am a glutton for Scholl's recordings, particularly Stabat Mater, and have been known to waste entire days away listening in rapture. Needless to say, I was really excited about this performance.

The ACO was amazing. They are a small group of really striking people--about 25 of them--and their conductor was also the first violin, so he directed them by playing. They all stood, and when they played, they were incredibly expressive. They swayed and dipped and rose and sank while the conductor, Richard Tognetti, did a fair amount of jumping during the most energetic passages. Their bows were mesmerizing, and between movements, they would thrust them into the air and let them fall slowly back to their instruments.

The piece by Pavel Haas, which just bowled me over, was String Quartet No. 2, Op.7, "From the Monkey Mountains," which Haas began to compose in 1925. The piece describes Haas' holidays in the highlands near Brno, and it is a wild ride through folk music, farm life, exotic landscape, turbulent and frightening storms, bird songs, and even Chinese poetry. I read in the playbill that Haas composed the fourth and final movement before being killed in the gas chamber in Auchwitz. The piece is really indescribable--there's a little of everything in it. And the conductor told us that there is even an optional part written to be played on the kitchen sink--although the double bass player and cellists took over that part by slapping their instruments, smacking their bows against the strings, and plucking. It was really memorable and wonderful.

And then the Handel arias with Scholl were beautiful and amazing. Scholl sings pieces in the counter-tenor range, so he mostly sings baroque works that were written for castrati. He sings in a range that one could easily imagine a woman singing, but there is something about his voice that I can't define in terms of gender. The sounds he can produce are just outside of the safe and familiar, and his voice is incredibly moving and also very erotic.

It was really interesting watching him sing--such a different experience than hearing a recording. He is a very large man, first of all--he's got a superhero stature and a cowboy posture. He dwarfed the orchestra members! Also, he was dressed kind of like an urban cowboy: tight black pants, tight black shirt, black boots that definitely had a bit of a cowboy heel. And when he summoned that beautiful voice, he would lean back, pull his elbows to the side and stretch his fingers; he'd spread his legs and subtly thrust his crotch forward; he'd look down and roll his neck back as the voice spilled forth--there was no part of his body that the sound wasn't coming from. It was an unexpectedly sexual performance. Or, then again, maybe it's just my overactive imagination.

Here's a taste of some delicious Vivaldi, sung by Andreas Scholl with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra:


  1. hi julia - i see you have discovered the yumminess that is andreas scholl. ;)