I was fortunate enough last week to have tickets to the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, where Vladimir Ashkenazy was conducting the Philharmonia orchestra.
It was a bit of mad rush to get there due to tram delays and feeding the kids before I left, but it was worth the stress. Once my husband and I had taken our seats in the centre of row B in the stalls, we had an amazing close up view of the orchestra warming up. When Ashkenazy came out, I was struck by the man’s magnetic personality. His smile lit up the auditorium, and from that moment on I was hooked. The first piece of music for the night was Sibelius, Finlandia and I was entranced watching the great man at work. It was as though the orchestra were a giant instrument, and he was the sole musician, extracting every ounce of music by his brilliance.
I don’t want to appear to be denigrating the orchestra by this. They were wonderful too – in order to create such a seamless impression, they too had to play their part, in responding to the conductor’s actions.
After the relatively short Finlandia, the set was rearranged to make way for the piano. This was when we realised the disadvantage of our seats. Firstly, the piano blocked the view of Mr Ashkenazy – all but his legs. Then, whilst I adore Rachmaninov’s piano concerto no. 2, and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet did a great job with it, the effect was less that of the whole piece, with the beauty contributed by all the orchestra. Instead the piano dominated slightly more that I would have liked. However, it was not sufficient to destroy my enjoyment of this, and to prevent my memory drifting to the wonderful (if a little dated) movie, Brief Encounter.
When we returned after the interval, the piano had disappeared as quickly as the ice cream, and the set had returned to the original configuration. I was able once more to enjoy the magnificence of Vladimir Ashkenazy holding the orchestra (and the audience) in the palm of his hand. Tchaikovsky’s symphony no. 5 was not a piece I was familiar with, but the Philharmonia brought it to life in their skilled hands, and I downloaded it eagerly as soon as I returned home.
A thoroughly brilliant concert, and for me, an introduction to the art of conducting which I had never before appreciated. The brilliant and charming Mr Ashkenazy (who received a much deserved standing ovation) changed my perspective, and I will never see a concert the same way again.