By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Thursday, June 16, 2016

When The Program Was More Important Than The Performance

In several preceding blogs I had recalled some of my reviews of 25/30  years ago, showing how grossly insensitive visiting musicians from the West normally were to the fact that some of us in New Delhi were desperately anxious to hear substantial quantities of Western classical music on the few precious occasions when it could be organized there. 

Actually this attitude seemed to be an extension of the extremely rigid rules and procedures governing the performance of classical music in the West.  Like the printed score of the music, the printed program also seemed to be a sacred document, which could never be modified or enlarged in any circumstances -- not even in an unfamiliar setting in a foreign country far away from home, as on the following occasion. . .

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New Delhi

29 March 1991

The encore was the best!

Albeniz, Giuliani, Tedesco . . .  all big names of composers of music for the classical guitar -- an exciting menu indeed!  But I was left standing with a few others outside the India International Center auditorium for some time while those inside were tasting the second course (three minuettes by Paganini), having finished the first (Sor: theme and variations).  We had arrived almost half an hour late for Griselda Ponce de Leon's guitar recital the other evening.

It is good to have these strict rules of entry and exit at least in the Western music events which take place in this country.  Of course, those who come late deserve to be punished.  But on this occasion even the punctual ones seemed to be paying a penalty, as I found out on entering the hall just before the third number (a sonata by Giuliani).  Somehow the guitar did not have a sonorous quality at all.

The performer explained after the event that there was a certain unusual dryness in the air inside the auditorium which had adversely affected the sound of the instrument.  Fair enough :  but whatever the reason, the performance did not seem to be coming off with a sparkle. There was an obvious fatigue in the strings which led to their yielding only a weak, anemic sound.  As a result, the music was listless.  And although the hall was nearly full before the intermission, many of the music-lovers had disappeared when the audience assembled again. 

The loss was entirely theirs, for the second half of the concert was excellent, with the guitar sounding much better.  Works by Albeniz, Barrios and Castelnuovo-Tedesco were rendered with a delicate touch, offering us many enchanting strains of music. 

Short-lived magic

But it was in the single encore played by Griselda that the guitar really came alive, with a flowery sound in full bloom.  It was a beautiful composition called Preludo No. 1 by Villa-Lobos, sensitively rendered.  That was when I wished that the performance would continue for another hour at least.  But unfortunately and quite predictably, the musician thought it was time to call it an evening, and the magic ended as suddenly as it had started.

I do think visiting musicians from the West must learn to get out of the straitjacket of their predetermined programs at least when they are performing in India.  I have this to say to all of them, and I hope our organizers will convey my message to them before they start their concerts :  Ladies and gentlemen, please go on playing when you are in excellent form, and never mind what your printed program says!

And to Ms. Griselda in particular, I have a special message :  Ending the music just when you had it glowing at last, Madame, was not the best thing to do, when you had come all the way from Rome to play the guitar for us here in New Delhi!

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