As a subscriber to the Berlin Philharmonic Digital concert Hall I have access to weekly archived performances by this great orchestra conducted by some of the world’s best musicians. Each week I receive an e-mail notifying me of the next live performance, often on Thursday or Saturday afternoons at 3PM Toronto time which translates to 8PM in Berlin. For about $160 Canadian per year I can watch more than one hundred concerts or parts of them at my leisure. Five strategically placed cameras almost unobtrusively record the musicians and conductors, often close up. And the sound reproduction lives up to the highest standards people have come to expect from German Tonmeisters.
For the price of one decent seat in Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall I have an ever-growing orchestral repertoire at my fingertips. Modern technology at its best.
This morning I sat in front of my computer to watch and hear Toru Takemitsu’s “From me flows what you call Time” recorded live in Berliner Philharmonie just a few days ago by the Philharmoiker, five German percussionists and the Japanese conductor Yusaka Sado.
I had known for over a week that this performance was going to be broadcast. So I had a good deal of time to contemplate the experiences I might have watching other people perform a work I had played probably 100 times since Toru wrote the piece in 1991 for Carnegie Hall’s 150th anniversary, Seiji Ozawa, the Boston Symphony and Nexus. Both Toru and Seiji have been important people in my life and every time I performed “From me flows what you call Time” I was deeply touched, even when the conductor or the orchestra or both were not quite up to the challenge, or when my performance was not entirely satisfactory. So I approached this performance by strangers with feelings of ambivalence if not trepidation.
Things started off really well with the young French flautist Emmanuel Pahud. He has performed the Boulez …Explosant – fixe… with Boulez conducting, and performs most of the Philhaemoiker’s contemporary works and sometimes interviews contemporary composers for its broadcasts. He is an incredible player and his performance of the opening flute solo was superb; nothing over the top, just fluid, serene, and beautifully shaped. Pahud also conducted the concert interview with Sado.
But it was the percussionists I was most interested in. I was ready to be disappointed or dismissive, but it has been a few years since I last played the piece and as this performance progressed, my listening became more objective.
I was delighted with the way the soloists performed and the smiles on their faces at the end of the concert, the repeated calls by the audience for another bow, and the response of the orchestra and the conductor confirmed the success of their performance.
There were delightfully surprising details. At one point in the score, Takemitsu directed some percussionists to play with their fingers, something Nexus never did, but I couldn’t hear one part and another was barely audible. No one plays the same piece of music the same way, nor should they. The soloists have all the sounds, that is to say, all the instruments with the correct pitches. I wonder if Michael Ranta provided them. I understand Michael has created a set of instruments for “From me flows . . . .” The percussionists also played with artistry. I felt they were new to the work, which is probably true, and this work takes time.
The sounds from the Berlin Philharmonic are spectacular. This is an orchestra that can play anything and under their Music Director Sir Simon Rattle, they have broken free from their limited repertoire of yesteryears. (There are also a lot of young players in the band.) The clarinets, harps, French horns, oboes, cellos and trumpets play particularly important roles in this work, but the entire orchestra has to play together and there’s no better orchestra in the world for doing this.
Never-the-less, I have to single out that great string bass section. The way they finished off the 5/8 bar crescendo just before the end and held the low C until the decay of the final wind chime note, was perfectly, if accidentally timed. The wind chimes did not ring excessively long and so the music stopped at exactly the right time to balance the work’s form.
The percussionists colored jackets, representing earth, wind, fire, water and everything or nothingness were a nice touch. The percussionists were Raphael Haeger (blue/water), Simon Rössler yellow/earth, Franz Schindlbeck (red/fire), Jan Schlichte (green/wind), and Wieland Welzel (white/nothingness). Excepting Simon Rössler, they are members of the Berliner percussion section. Watching them play was a bit eerie. So many of the sounds they produced and the gestures they made reminded me of Nexus. The body language they displayed when they came on stage for their bows was also similar. They are all good players. Bravo.
As the last sounds of this magnificent work disappeared, I was convinced, as I was in 1990, that Takemitsu has created for percussionists their first major and popular concerto. Though it must be said that Takemitsu did not think of this work as a concerto. He said it was a work for orchestra with percussion. Nevertheless “From me flows what you call Time” is an astounding work which affords opportunities for percussionists and audiences to experience aspects of the percussion world beyond the bombast typically associated with drumming.
To subscribe to the Berlin Digital concert Hall, go to: http://www.digitalconcerthall.com. The photo gallery below mostly consists of photos of the percussionists and their set ups. This was purposeful as I had in mind a readership primarily of percussionists. They loosely follow the music’s progression.