Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hauschka at Hotel Utah

Wrist stampThis is not an event I would have considered attending on my own, so I'm thankful to a friend for inviting me to tag along. I'm unhip enough never to have been to the Hotel Utah, so it was an experience just to get my wrist stamped, to avoid stepping on the dog in the bar, & to catch the attention of the preoccupied bartenders. For once I can say that I was not one of the younger members of the crowd.

The show itself was a mixed bag, offering different types of performers & styles but not making up a cohesive evening of music. It was made even more bizarre by the surprise appearance of violin virtuoso Hilary Hahn, who is doing Tchaikovsky with the Symphony this week.

The line-up started with chamber works performed by musicians from the Magik*Magik Orchestra. Violinist Gloria Justen performed 3 of her own solo compositions. Each piece has a distinct character & allows the soloist to do a certain amount of showing off. Her performance also incorporated electronic effects. An oboe duo performed Ecstatic Dances (originally for 2 flutes) by the Australian composer Ross Edwards. The pieces are meant to evoke the natural landscape of Australia. They make extensive use of musical echoes. A guitar & flute duo performed a Terry Riley elegy called Francesco in Paraiso.

Next up was a lanky guitarist/singer/song-writer called Tom Brosseau who did about half a dozen songs. I have to admit that I couldn't tune into what he was doing, except to notice that all his songs rhyme. There seemed to be a heavy dose of irony going on, but I couldn't be sure. Hilary Hahn made her 1st appearance at this point, accompanying him tentatively.

Ms. Hahn then performed 2 solos. I had never heard her play before, & I almost fell over when she announced she would play Ernst's version of Schubert's Erlkönig. She has a super-clean technique, yet plays with an understated virtuosity. She is also young & cute, & I'll probably never see her so close up again. When she weirdly lost her place in the Ernst, she simply stopped, announced that the piece is not supposed to end that way, then started back on the right track. She followed this with a contrasting slow movement from an Ysaÿe sonata. At this moment one realized how delicate classical music is in performance. Noises coming from the bar easily & careless crushed the still & quiet mood she was trying to create.

Mr. Brousseau, perhaps unwisely, followed Ms. Hahn with a few more of his songs. Hauschka joined him on the piano for one song, as a way to make a transition to the final portion of the show, I suppose.

The show ended with Hauschka playing a set of his own compositions on the prepared piano. He was accompanied on several of them by an ensemble of 2 cellos, 2 violins & 2 oboes, again from the Magik*Magik orchestra. Ms. Hahn joined the ensemble for the final improvisatory number. Apparently Hauschka has his own band, but he was not able to bring them over from Germany.

Hauschka used an upright piano with the front removed & various items duct taped to the strings & soundboard. Otherwise, he played it liked a normal piano. The primary effect was to dampen the instrument, making it sound like a clavichord or an old saloon piano. I was disappointed not to witness any other extended piano techniques. I still remember what fun it was to see Marino Formenti pick up a hammer & use it on a piano.

Hauschka's music is minimalist in style. It's very friendly, with simple ideas that are pleasant to listen to. Development occurs through the repetition of motives. There is something genuine & sweet about both the music & the performer. Hauschka, speaking fine English, acknowledged his cousin in the audience, who had come all the way from their small home town of Ferndorf to see him. Hauschka also expressed his hope to talk with some of us afterward over a beer. & he really meant it.

I do have one big complaint to make about the show. The venue is really tiny, but for some reason the concert was still amplified. This makes no sense to me. Electronic amplification puts an extra layer of technology between the performer & the audience. Though making things louder, it results in the loss of detail. I think there were a lot of things I did not hear because of the unnecessary amplification. Ms. Hahn was the only performer who asked that her mic be cut, & I was so grateful.


sfmike said...

I think Hilary played the same Ysaÿe sonata movement as an encore at the San Francisco Symphony last night. You should have come to the concert. It was lots of fun and there was no bar noise to contend with.

You have another chance on Friday or Saturday. There's a rush ticket hotline that the Symphony doesn't publicize at 503-5577 where there is a recording telling you if there are any $20 seats available. I've often sat in the first row of the orchestra section that way.

Axel Feldheim said...

sfmike, are you sure you want to give away that little rush hotline secret? I have tickets for Friday night's performance, & I look forward to hearing Hilary under standard concert hall conditions.

sfmike said...

Dear Axel: Oh, yes, do keep the rush hotline number up there. I have no idea why it's kept a secret because it's a wonderful way to fill the house with people who want to hear concerts but who don't have a lot of money. It's much better than the papering of the house by nonprofits that occasionally happens. Those people often look clueless and not particularly involved with the music whereas the $20 folks tend to be quite passionate. Enjoy Ms. Hilary and the Russkis.

Axel Feldheim said...

Don't worry, your tip stays! Like you, I often get the feeling at both the opera & the symphony that the lower the patron's ticket price, the more knowledgeable the patron.

Anonymous said...

Hi Axel!

Thanks for coming out to the show! Charlise sent me a link to your blog, I'm glad you were able to come! We were just as surprised as you that Ms Hahn showed up but I'm so glad she did. I sadly missed her performance with the symphony this week but look forward to catching her next time. I hope you can come out to the next Magik show and happy blogging!


Minna (from Magik)

Axel Feldheim said...

I was glad to be at the show. It was quite a wide-ranging line-up. It was also a rare treat to hear Hilary twice in one week in such different contexts.