Musica Viva, the Internet and Borodin

Tonight was the opening of our Musica Viva 2010 International Concert Season. The performers were the Borodin Quartet, and they performed two quartets by Shostakovich and one by their namesake, Borodin. I’m not going to review this concert in detail because, as I’ve said before, I have no musical training and so can’t comment in any detail on the structure of the music or the technical skill of the musicians. There are things though that I can talk about.

The first thing is the Internet. Like many of us, I like to keep an eye on how organisations and businesses use the Internet to enhance their services. A few years ago Musica Viva started making their concert programs available online before the concert. Not only did this mean you didn’t have to pay for a printed program at the venue but you could read up on the pieces beforehand. In addition to this aid to audience education, they have, for some years, offered free pre-concert talks. We never managed to get to those which is a shame as I’m sure they would have further enhanced our appreciation of the concerts but, well, you just can’t fit in everything. This year, though, they have replaced this with a new feature: online concert talks – which they say they will make available around 2 weeks before the concert. You can check out the talks offered for tonight’s Borodin concert here. What a great way to use the Internet to help audience members get the most out of the concerts. As the athletes at the Winter Olympics say, I’m stoked!

The next thing is a little more esoteric. I may not be trained in music, but I am a trained librarian/archivist. I was therefore rather chuffed to read that Borodin, an industrial chemist as well as composer, invented “a chemical compound – a special type of gelatine coating – that enabled him to preserve his [hand-written] musical work for posterity” (from the concert program). How great is that?


Cello (Courtesy: Clker, by OCAL)

And now for the concert. Three pieces were played:

  • Dmitri Shostakovich String Quartet no. 4 in D major, op. 83 (1949)
  • Dmitri Shostakovich String Quartet no. 13 in B flat minor, op. 138 (1960-70)
  • Alexander Borodin String Quartet no. 2 in D major (1881)

It was a lovely concert. The two Shostakovich pieces were a little more demanding for those in the audience who like something more traditional, but I thought both were beautiful. The end of his 4th quartet, with a slowly sustained fading line from the cello supported by light (not bright) pizzicato from the other instruments, was played sensitively and left us with a wistful melancholy. According to the program, Shostakovich said that music should always have “two layers” and that Jewish folk music with its ability to “be happy while it is tragic” is close to his vision of music. Both these quartets reflected, I think, this goal though in the mostly sombre 13th it was much harder to find! My concert neighbour (not Mr Gums, but on my other side) and I agreed that this was not music to listen to at home on the radio or a CD, but to hear live, in the concert hall.

The Borodin is a different kettle of fish – romantic, with all the richness and lyricism you associate with that period. The third movement, the Notturno (or Nocturne), is famous. I recognised it immediately but if you had asked me before the concert who wrote it I would have “guessed” Beethoven. Well, it is Romantic! But, hearing it tonight, I realised that it does sound a little more “modern” than Beethoven, and that’s about as technical as I’ll get!

All in all, a lovely concert – interesting music well played – to start this year’s season. Next up The Harp Consort. You never know, I may be inspired to tell you about that one too.

11 thoughts on “Musica Viva, the Internet and Borodin

  1. I bet (if he has/had one) Borodin’s wife wasn’t as chuffed. “More paperwork we have to have floating about?!” 😛

    Because I’m such an authority on marriage, and everything. Also, I just offended my own feminist sensibilities.

    To Shostakovich: “And if our good fortune never comes, here’s to whatever comes – Drink, L’Chaim, to life!”

    (I’m going to have Fiddler on the brain for a while yet, rest assured.)

  2. Fascinating. I don’t know any of those pieces and tend to find Shostakovich rather “difficult”. My wife and I went recently to a concert by a local orchestra and like you we benefited from the programme being online so we could see what we were in for.

    • I think Shostakovich is quite difficult but I liked these pieces – seen and heard live. I have music that I’ve loved in concert and bought for home and haven’t found it anywhere near as enjoyable at home. have you experienced that?

  3. We are big fans of live music chez Tim & Lisa, but I haven’t been to anything since the Woodend Festival last year. We let our Melbourne Symphony subs lapse when we were saving up for our last overseas trip, and somehow have never got round to resubscribing.
    An omission I must rectify.

    • Yes, when you stop for a reason of some sort of inertia gets in and it is easy to let it slide isn’t it? We’ve done that in the past too. We too, as you can tell, like live music a lot – and are pretty eclectic in our tastes.

  4. Sue, did you catch the ABC interview with the leader of the Kronus Quartet last night? He talked passionately about the need to explore the works of a wide range of cultures and the more non-mainstream composers. It was a very inspiring interview.

    Your Post here reminded me that I need to allocate time in my life for far more of this! Thank you.

    • Oh no, what a shame. I was at my reading group! I like the Kronos Quartet and love the fact that they explore very widely. I have a CD of theirs, and they did the amazing music for that wonderful (should I use so many adjectives do you think, oh English teacher?) film, Requiem for a dream. What show was it on? Radio? TV?

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